Words will never be enough to show the depth of my gratitude towards our veterans and military personnel who are actively serving. I can't help but fill with pride as I travel across South Dakota and meet men and women who have bravely stepped up to defend this great country. In fact, over 72,000 veterans call South Dakota home and it is because of these heroes that families across our state can wake up in the greatest nation in the world.
All of our nation's veterans deserve to be treated with the honor and respect they deserve, which is why I have and will continue to support legislation in Congress that assists veterans and honors their service. Recently, I cosponsored H.R. 685, the American Fighter Aces Congressional Gold Medal Act, which specifically honors our nation's fighter pilots. Fighter pilots are credited with destroying five or more confirmed enemy aircraft in aerial combat.
More than 60,000 fighter pilots have served in the Armed Forces, but less than 1,500 have been honored with the prestigious title of Fighter Ace. Ten aces were born in South Dakota, including Governor Joseph "Joe" Foss, the second-highest scoring ace in the Marine Corps, and Cecil Harris, the second-highest scoring ace in the Navy. As South Dakotans, we should be proud to say that the best of the best have called our state home. I fly into and out of Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls when I'm traveling to Washington, D.C. Every landing and take-off reminds me of our state's veterans and one of our greatest flying aces.
The American Fighter Aces Congressional Gold Medal Act will allow for the presentation of a single gold medal in honor of these brave pilots and their incredible achievements. This medal would then be given to the Smithsonian Institution for display and research. Bronze duplicates will be sold by the U.S. Mint to cover the cost of the initial gold medal.
This group of elite fighters is also one of the most highly decorated military groups in American history. Twenty-two achieved the rank of Admiral in the Navy, 79 achieved the rank of General in the Army, Marines and Air Force and 19 fighter aces have been awarded the Medal of Honor, including Joe Foss.
I'm proud to support this bill, and to support our men and women in uniform. If you know of a veteran who is having difficulty receiving a military medal or needs assistance with benefits claims, please contact one of my offices so we can help. Those needing assistance should visit my website at http://noem.house.gov for more information or call one of my offices.