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Public Statements

Memorial Day 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

MEMORIAL DAY 2008 -- (Senate - May 22, 2008)

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, in observance of Memorial Day this year, I had the distinct honor of meeting a group of World War II veterans from Kentucky who had traveled to our Nation's Capital to see the World War II Memorial. A couple of the veterans, by the way, told me this was their first trip to Washington.

This memorial, completed in 2004, is a fitting tribute to the millions of Americans--some who returned home, some who did not--who put on their country's uniform to fight the greatest and most destructive war the world had ever seen. The awe the memorial inspires reminds us all why this group of patriots is called the ``greatest generation.''

The 35 Kentucky World War II veterans I met were able to travel to Washington thanks to the nonprofit organization Honor Flight, which transports World War II veterans from anywhere in the country to see their memorial, free of charge. Many veterans, for physical or financial reasons, are unable to make the trip on their own, and so without Honor Flight they would not get the chance to visit the memorial created for them and their fellow fighters at all.

About 36,500 World War II veterans live in Kentucky today, with about 2.5 million throughout the country. Unfortunately, that number shrinks each day as time advances for these brave warriors. Honor Flight and its volunteers, many of whom are veterans themselves, are doing a great service for our Nation by making it possible for these veterans to make this important trip.

So this Memorial Day, I hope everyone says thank you to a man or woman who wore the uniform. We should remember the bravery of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. And while most of us will never know the heroism shown by the World War II veterans I was privileged to meet, we can marvel at the courage shown every day by our current generation of heroes serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I mentioned to the veterans from Kentucky yesterday my own father who served in Europe during World War II, who arrived after the Battle of the Bulge and was in the conflict from about March of 1945 forward, until he met with the Russians at Pilsen, which I believe is now in the Czech Republic. I mentioned to them that I have a letter he wrote to my mother. There were a number of letters, but this particular one is etched in my memory because it is dated May 8, 1945.

Underneath the date he wrote ``V-E Day,'' so they were calling it Victory in Europe Day even then. He had seen some very severe fighting and lost a great many of his company, and one could sense the elation in his voice that the conflict was now ended.

But then there was a subsequent letter I thought was quite prophetic, particularly for a regular foot soldier who was not an officer. He had a chance to interact with some of the Russians because they met the Russians in Pilsen. He said to my mother: I think the Russians are going to be a big problem down the way.

So it was interesting that there was this sense, even to the foot soldiers, that our alliance with the Soviet Union was a short-term marriage of convenience and might subsequently be a big problem down the road. Of course, his prophecy was proven accurate.

While in Pilsen, he got a chance to befriend some Czechs, and I have some letters that were exchanged with friends from what was then Czechoslovakia. He told me that all of those letters stopped a couple years later when the Iron Curtain descended across Europe and he was unable to communicate further with any of the Czech friends he made. I share that story of my own father on Memorial Day for my colleagues.

In closing, I would mention that the particular flight from Kentucky yesterday was dedicated to the memory of John Polivka, who had planned to be on the trip. He was a World War II veteran who planned to be on the trip but who passed away on Monday, May 19, just this week. So the veterans dedicated their Honor Flight to Washington to their colleague whom they had hoped would be able to join them. Even though there was great sadness over his loss, there was great joy in being able to witness the World War II Memorial which symbolizes their extraordinary contribution to our country.

I ask unanimous consent that names of the World War II veterans who were here this week be printed in the Record.


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