When asked how he would like to be remembered, one of the last survivors of World War I, who died in 2009 in Great Britain, replied simply: “I want to be forgotten, remember the others.”
Those sound like the words of a true soldier — always putting others before himself, always sacrificing so we don’t have to. Don’t worry about me, he says, but remember the others.
It is for that reason that we must pay tribute Saturday to the 42 million men and women who have worn this country’s uniform over the last two-plus centuries. We must remember them and the sacrifices they have made. Because of them, we have opportunities, we have freedoms, we have our independence, we have our democracy. But that all comes at a cost – a cost paid by those 42 million men and women. They are the proof that freedom is never free, nor does it come without sacrifice. They paid with their time, with their health and with their lives.
My dad, Ray Jones, was a U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966. He paid a price then and is still paying a price today. More than five decades later, my dad still has health complications from being exposed to Agent Orange during the U.S. Military’s herbicidal warfare. Yes, my dad paid a significant price so that we could continue our way of life.
His was not the only sacrifice. Many others have paid the ultimate price with their very lives. Even today, many of our men and women in uniform are in harm’s way to ensure our freedoms. We live in the greatest country on earth — and that does not come without a cost.
As of September 2013, there were approximately 339,000 veterans living in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. Of those, about 18,000 served during World War II, 30,000 served during the Korean War, 111,000 served during the Vietnam War, 94,000 served during the Gulf War, and 91,000 served during peacetime.
We set aside one day each year – Veterans Day — to say thank you to those we owe so much. On Saturday, remember those who have served our country in war and peacetime and the price they have paid for your freedom. Show your appreciation. We all know a veteran. They live next door, they teach our children, they sit in front of us at church, they work with us, they shop at the same grocery store, they are a part of our everyday lives.
Veterans Day is much more than a day off from work and school or about more than the big Veterans Day sales. It is greater than a parade or a special program. It is a day that unites us, and offers us a chance to give something back to those who served.
Veterans Day provides us an opportunity to honor those who served our country and to learn from their experiences. It is important that we do not remove their humanity from history. We need to hear their stories to have a better understanding and a deeper appreciation of what they did and we need to share those stories with our children so they too will remember. We do not ever need to take for granted the men and women serving our country or our veterans.
As Kentuckians, we are all too aware of the sacrifices that have been made in the name of freedom. Kentucky has a long and a strong military presence with Fort Campbell, Fort Knox, and the approximately 339,000 veterans who live in the commonwealth.
I am proud that the state has worked hard over the years to help those who have served or are serving. Our challenge is to build on these gains and do whatever else we can to ease the burdens our veterans and their families may face because of their service.
I am very proud of our veterans – all of our veterans. When our veterans were called upon, they stepped forward and made a difference. They put this country’s needs ahead of their own. We all pray for a day when everyone can enjoy true peace, but until that day comes, it is good to know that there are courageous men and women who continue to serve on the front line to protect our freedoms.
The simple truth is that our way of life would not be possible without our men and women in uniform. They were and they are the foundation on which everything else rests. We can never fully repay them, but fortunately, they only ask of us one thing: To never forget.
I recently saw some young men in uniform eating at a restaurant. I walked over to them, said, “thank you for your service” and shook their hands. It was such a simple gesture, but they seemed pleased. I hope that each of us will take the time this week to show your appreciation to a veteran. A simple “thank you” and a handshake will go a long way in letting them know the gratitude we have for their sacrifices.
On Saturday, remember that Veterans Day is set aside so that we as a country can celebrate and honor all of our veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. Many have served and sacrificed since before the Revolution and until this very day and many will continue to do the same. For this, we are grateful. For this, we will forever be indebted.
Calvin Coolidge once said, “A nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”
We as, Americans must never forget our veterans. We must show the world that in America, our brave defenders will never be forgotten. On this Veterans Day, let us celebrate not just our freedom, but also our independence, our democracy and the sacrifices that ensure America remains just as we love her!
Happy Veterans Day and God bless America!