Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I rise today in honor of Veterans Day, our national day of remembrance established to solemnly honor the sacrifices of American men and women who have served in military actions in behalf of our country.
We recognize these men and women for preserving our liberty, freedoms and democratic way of life. For me, as a first-year Senator representing the men and women of Arkansas, this is an especially noteworthy Veterans Day. Since September 11th, numerous Arkansans have engaged in our battle against terrorism, serving in Afghanistan and other points abroad. This fall, over 3,000 men and women of Arkansas, members of our 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard, are preparing to travel to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Every day my prayers include the brave men and women of Arkansas who serve, and have served, in our armed forces. I pray that every single one of our brave Americans in uniform will return safely home to the loving arms of their families.
Sadly, many of our veterans have not returned safely home. Many of our veterans have paid the ultimate price, sacrificing their lives on the altar of freedom. We must never forget their sacrifices. We must never forget the cost of freedom paid by our veterans.
As he gazed on the battlefield at Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln uttered, "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."
I am in a similar situation today, unable to articulate anything which even comes close to capturing the debt of gratitude each and every one of us owes our veterans. No words can capture my gratitude, or the gratitude of Arkansas, towards our veterans.
Yet, as I mentioned, Veterans Day is a day of remembrance. This is a day to honor and remember those who have served in our armed service. Last week, I had the distinct pleasure and unique opportunity to talk with Johnie "Chick" Matthews. Chick, at 102 years old, is Arkansas's oldest living veteran.
Mr. Johnie "Chick" Matthews, a resident of Greenbrier, Arkansas, first answered the call to duty to serve this country in 1917. That was 86 years ago.
He was given the nickname Chick because he enlisted into the United States Army when he was only 16 years old. He was the youngest at his training facility at Camp Pike, AR.
His mother was a widow with mouths to feed and he realized that he needed to help shoulder the financial responsibilities of caring for his mother and brothers.
He went to Little Rock to enlist in the Army. He lied about his age. The recruiter said: We are not sure we believe you, so go home and get your mother to sign this document. When he went back home, he was scared to take it to his mother because he was afraid she would not sign the age waiver so he went to a neighbor woman and said: Mother hurt her hand and she cannot sign this. Can you sign this on her behalf? She did, and he was enlisted in the U.S. Army.
At the age of 16, he was the youngest soldier in his unit, probably one of the youngest in the Army. But when it was all
said and done, as he ended his military career, Chick had completed 46 years of military service spanning World War I through Vietnam. That is truly remarkable. In addition, he served in four branches-the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine.
When I talked to Chick, I was entertained and captivated by his stories, but most of all I was impressed by his sense of duty. In fact, when I asked him if he would recommend military service to others, he said: If they would let me in, I would be there tomorrow morning to sign up.
In addition to Chick Matthews, I recognize another veteran who is a bit younger, but no less committed, to his country and to the State of Arkansas. Randy Massanelli is a native Arkansan who dutifully served in the U.S. Army for 15 years. While in the Army, he rose to the rank of major and served in Desert Storm where he was awarded the Bronze Star. Now he serves as my State director in Little Rock. I am grateful for the knowledge, experience, and perspective he brings to the office as I work to do what is best, not just for veterans and the troops around the country and around the world, but also for the people of Arkansas.
I have known Randy since we were both at the University of Arkansas as undergraduates. I thank him today. He has shown me time and time again what true devotion to his country really is. I am lucky to have him on my team and I am proud to call him a friend. I honor him today as a great veteran.
Last, I want to recognize another veteran on my staff, Wayne Palmer, who also served in Desert Storm. Wayne is a tremendous asset to my office. I thank him for his service to our country.
Arkansans throughout the years have followed Chick's, Wayne's, and Randy's lead. I am proud to boast about my State's tradition of military service. As veterans continue to risk life and limb for us, I will work as hard as I can to make sure they are taken care of before, during, and after their mission is completed.
In the coming days, we will vote on the Defense authorization conference report. As a conferee, I was proud to work on this legislation, which includes a 3.7 percent across-the-board military pay increase, expands TRICARE coverage for the Guard and Reserve personnel and their families, and provides benefits and programs to improve the overall quality of the pay for our service men and women.
This legislation also authorizes disabled military retirees to collect their retirement pay and disability compensation, otherwise known as concurrent receipt. This measure would benefit millions of Americans who have served our country for years but have been prohibited from receiving both retirement compensation and VA disability benefits.
Correcting this inequity for our veterans is long overdue-in fact, 110 years overdue. I made a promise to take care of our service men and women who put their lives on the line for our country. This provision indicates Congress's intention to finally honor its word.
I am also looking forward to debating the VA/HUD appropriations bill where I have an understanding we will be looking to add $1.3 billion to veterans health care. We cannot discount the importance of this funding, especially as more veterans come home from Afghanistan and Iraq and the global world on terrorism. We must ensure that the Veterans' Administration has the resources it needs to look after those men and women who look after us.
Mostly, this Veterans Day fills me with a sense of security and pride because of my faith in the ability and skills of our men and women in uniform. This faith nourishes my hope for a peaceful future for my children and the children of Arkansas.
I know our men and women in uniform are the most capable fighting force on Earth. I know these individuals will willingly endure personal sacrifice and danger to defend our democratic values, just as our veterans of yesteryear endured personal sacrifice and danger to provide us the freedom and democracy we enjoy today. I know our Armed Forces will be victorious in their mission.
On this Veterans Day, I extend my gratitude and the gratitude of every Arkansan to our veterans and their families.
I yield the floor.