Op-Ed: This Veterans Day, You Can Help Honor and Remember our Nation's Heroes
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson observed the first Armistice Day, which would later become Veterans' Day, by reflecting "with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory." Ninety years later, Americans everywhere continue to honor the service and sacrifice of our nation's veterans on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I.
One tradition I have been proud to participate in is the Honor Flight program. Honor Flight brings World War II veterans to Washington free of charge to visit their war memorial for the first time. Last year, this program helped over 11,000 veterans visit the memorial that was constructed in their honor. I have been proud to personally support this effort, and honored to meet Wisconsin veterans during their visit to the World War II memorial. To learn more about Honor Flight, please visit their website at: http://www.honorflight.org/.
While meeting Wisconsin veterans on an Honor Flight, I was deeply troubled to meet a man who had not received the awards he deserved because his service records were destroyed in a fire. He was wounded at the battle of Zigzag Pass in the Philippines, but the Army rejected his two previous Purple Heart applications because of the missing records. After working with the Army, enough information was found in reconstructed records to allow me to present the veteran with his long overdue medals, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, on September 11, 2009.
Preserving the memories of the men and women who defended our country is more important than ever. In 2000, Congress created the Veterans History Project to collect interviews with veterans, as well as wartime letters and photographs. The Library of Congress saves these valuable memories for future generations, and Americans everywhere can submit material to the collection and join this effort.
To participate in the Veterans History Project, I encourage you to visit their website at http://www.loc.gov/vets/. Visitors can search the project's collection and read about the experiences of our country in wartime. You can also download a field kit to submit your own interviews or materials to the collection.
Veterans Day gives us an opportunity to honor those who defended our freedom -- but we must also remember the tragedy of war. Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954, after World War II and the Korean War ended the hope that World War I would be the "war to end all wars." President Eisenhower's proclamation called on Americans to "solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.