Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege of participating in a number of events focused on Memorial Day and remembering the many brave Americans who have served and sacrificed on our behalf. From the poignant annual Memorial Day Ceremony in Leitchfield, to the dedication of the moving Vietnam Wall in Elizabethtown, to the joint DAR-American Legion Post 81 ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans, we have respected and loved our local military veterans.
Americans have long set aside a day to remember the sacrifice made by young men whose lives were cut short in battle. Many states and cities have rich traditions of decorating local graves and claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1966, Congress officially declared that Memorial Day originated in Waterloo, New York. And, in 1971, Congress decreed the national holiday was to be held on the last Monday in May.
One of the first large remembrance ceremonies was held in Arlington National Cemetery, This year marked the 150th anniversary of this hollowed place on the outskirts of Washington that was once the home of Robert E. Lee. It is now the final resting place for 400,000 men and women. Over 42 million Americans have served our nation in uniform, and 1.3 million have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Almost half of that number were killed during the Civil War alone.
Kentucky has long been the home of many American heroes. In the War of 1812, more soldiers from Kentucky died than from every other state combined. Vietnam saw Hal Moore demonstrate great heroism and leadership, and Kentucky’s own Dakota Meyer recently earned the Medal of Honor for his valiant service in Afghanistan. Today, our Commonwealth is home to 339,000 veterans. We also host or are home to thousands who serve at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell, and in the National Guard and Reserves. Units and individuals from Kentucky continue to play an outsized role in the ongoing war against terrorists around the world.
Thankfully, America has realized that it did not always give our returning veterans the homecoming and appreciation they deserved. As a veteran myself, I am sorry that when they came home, our Korean War and Vietnam War veterans were not greeted as the true American patriots and heroes they are. Belatedly, America has expressed its appreciation to them, and realized that while we talk about the “Greatest Generation” of World War II, America has produced great patriots and selfless heroes in every era.
On that note, many of us realize that we must demand that our government bear true faith with our veterans, and live up to Abraham Lincoln’s commitment “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” That official motto of the VA is one all of us must assure is honored.
As the only member of the Kentucky General Assembly still serving in uniform and an honorary member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, I am honored to stand with veterans from every era as we pass the torch of freedom to yet another generation of patriots. Even as I do so, and as the dust settles from yet another election that reflects one of our greatest rights and responsibilities as Americans, I realize that there are many ways to serve. Thank you to all those who stepped forward and ran for public office and to those who serve and sacrifice as first responders every day. Your dedication to service is a credit to our nation as well.
Kentucky in general, and the 18th District in particular, demonstrates the resolve necessary to keep freedom’s flame burning brightly. With my own son now serving in uniform, I am confident that our children and grandchildren will live up to the legacy handed down to them and will prove worthy of Ronald Reagan’s axiom of liberty: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”