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For anyone worn-out from the election and disillusioned by the state of our politics (and that probably covers most of us), we now have the perfect antidote – Veterans Day. It is a day to honor those who have served, who had a purpose bigger than themselves, who protected what is most important, and whose service helped make our country stronger and better. Veterans Day is intended to honor them, but this year the rest of us may need it even more than they do.
Since 1973, our nation has had an all-volunteer military. Everyone who serves chooses to sign up. Less than one percent of our population protects the rest of us, and less than ten percent have ever served. Congress has worked to improve pay and update benefits, but no one gets rich serving in the military. Yet, it still draws some of the best and brightest from among us.
Every year, at least before the COVID-19 outbreak, one of my and Sally’s favorite days of the year has been when honor flights from our area travel to Washington D.C. Originally designed for veterans of World War II, recent years have included more Korea and Vietnam veterans. We always tried to arrange a visit to the Capitol building when Congress was not in session so that I could escort the group to the House Floor. I told those veterans that many famous people had been in that chamber over the years, but no one had ever sat in those seats who were more important or more worthy of our nation’s gratitude, honor, and respect than they.
Often the veterans are accompanied by a family member. During my time in Congress, I have seen more clearly that the families of service members serve our country as well, and they also deserve our appreciation.
I am afraid that most of us have come to take for granted the many ways a strong military benefits our nation as a whole and each of us individually. The last 70 years have seen an unprecedented improvement in the condition of mankind around the world. No people have benefited more than Americans. And all of it rests on the foundation of relative peace and security provided by the U.S. military. Our standard of living and our quality of life depend on them doing their job. If we allow our country’s commitment to a strong defense to slip away, the world will be more dangerous, and our daily lives will suffer.
I first announced that I was running for Congress on Veterans Day 1993 and quoted the former Senate Chaplain, Dr. Peter Marshall, “A different world cannot be made by indifferent people.” Our veterans have never been indifferent. They volunteered, rolled up their sleeves, and helped make a better world. We have all been the beneficiaries. Let’s do more than thank and honor them this year. Let’s all try to be more like them. Future generations will be grateful.