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Tribute to Our Military Veterans

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COLLINS of Georgia. Thank you, I appreciate that.

Mr. Speaker, it is just an honor to be here tonight, for in 2 weeks, Americans across this great Nation will pause to remember, to honor, and to commemorate the men and women who have served the cause of liberty while wearing the uniform.

Veterans Day origins come from the battlefields of Europe when, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns of World War I fell silent.

Of all of our Nation's holidays, Veterans Day holds a special meaning for me and my family. This day affords a unique opportunity to reflect and to remember people I have served alongside in the uniform and out.

It also reminds me tonight of not only those that I served in uniform with, but I continue to serve with who are actually members of my staff. I serve with two, one who is with me tonight in the gallery, retired Master Sergeant Bill Kokley, and also Vernon Robinson, Major, United States Army, who serves in my D.C. office as well.

It is just a reminder of the continuity of those who serve and the areas in which they serve as we go forward each and every day in our daily walk.

As a chaplain serving at Balad Air Base in Iraq, I was privileged to know and to comfort those who bore the wounds of battle. I watched in awe at the absolute determination and phenomenal dedication of doctors, nurses and medical technicians as they fought back against death itself to save the lives of our military warriors.

And because of their skills, more than 98 percent of those arriving at Balad alive left Balad alive. That is an amazing statistic and a compliment to you, Congressman, and others like you, and seeing the others at night on the flight line, both Army and Air Force, Marine, Navy, and even Coast Guard, in the middle of the desert.

I also think of the young airman I met one night while he was on guard duty. He didn't come to the gate when I first drove up, and I sat there for a second in the truck, and then he didn't come out. And he finally came out and he came rumbling out of the back. He said, oh, Chap, I'm sorry I didn't see you sitting there. I didn't see you. I apologize.

I looked at him and I said, okay if it is just me, but if the colonel had come along, it might have been a different issue. What were you doing? I was going to try and help him.

And I was ready for some excuse, that he was tired or whatever, and he got out a little piece of paper and he had written down. And I said, what are you doing?

He said, well, I was figuring up my salary, because now I have got a little bit of money, and last year wasn't real good at home. Mom and Dad, Mom was sick and Dad got laid off, and he said, we didn't have a lot of Christmas.

He said, ``But this year, I am making big money.'' He is an A1C. ``Big money.'' He said, ``I want to make sure that I will be able to send stuff home so my brother and my sister can have Christmas.'' That is what I met that night.

When I came home, I carried with me a reminder, because one day, I picked up the Stars and Stripes--you know, in a war zone, you pick up anything to read, and I would pick up the Stars and Stripes, pick up everything. One of those papers I happened to just be reading while I was eating, and I opened it up, and in the Stars and Stripes, they carry pictures of those who did not make it. They died in combat. I remember opening that page up, and I looked, and along the bottom, there were eight pictures. I remember distinctly four of them because I stood beside their bed and held their hand in Balad. I carry that picture and that flag.

As Congressman Wenstrup has said, the National Anthem is no longer--if it ever was--just a song. It is a spirit that lives.

The Ninth District of Georgia has a great legacy of citizens who have proudly served in our Armed Forces. This spring, we lost one of our greatest, Colonel Benjamin Purcell, United States Army. Colonel Purcell was the highest-ranking Army officer held as a prison of war.

Colonel Purcell was commissioned a lieutenant through the Army Reserve Officers Training program at North Georgia College, my alma mater. He was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was subsequently sent to Europe. In August 1967, a year after I was born, he was stationed in Vietnam.

Colonel Purcell became a POW after his helicopter was shot down in Quang Tri City, Vietnam, in 1968. Most of his time as a POW was spent in solitary confinement. He was unable to be with other prisoners until shortly before he was released. On March 27, 1973, Colonel Purcell was freed, as the U.S. was finally pulling out of Vietnam.

During his military career, Purcell was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart, along with the Parachutist and Combat Infantryman badges. Colonel Purcell was laid to rest with full military honors.

Colonel Purcell's courageous story is just one of the many we remember on Veterans Day. He will always have the thanks and admiration of many Georgians.

On this Veterans Day, I will think about a young Marine from my hometown of Gainesville. In 2011, Corporal Sean Adams was on patrol in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. The IED left him without legs, his left thumb, and his right pinky finger. He told me that when he went to Afghanistan, ``I fought for myself, my family, my country, and the Corps, and now I'm fighting for my life.''

Sean is being medically retired from his beloved Marine Corps and is even now searching for the opportunity to continue to serve his community. He is now fitted with prosthetic legs. His stated goal is to run the Marine Corps Marathon next year. Having seen this young man's courage and strength, I am certain he will make it.

Later this week, I have the privilege of attending a retirement ceremony at Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base for Colonel Timothy E. Tarchick, who has honorably served our Nation for his entire adult life. I am humbled to call him a mentor and, most importantly, my friend.

These are just a few of the veterans who have touched my life. I often think back on the men and women of our Armed Forces with whom I have had the pleasure of serving our Nation, and I think of the conversations, the laughter, and also the tears that we have shared. It is often the very short or one-time interactions with a comrade in arms that leave the most indelible memories.

On my desk, if you were to come to my office, if you can find it on the fifth floor of Cannon, you will see on my desk a little bracelet that was made for me by a young lady in Balad who was struggling every day. I would go by and see her, and I would take her stuff, and I would give her encouragement or I would give her a coke or give her a candy. One night, I came by, and she said, ``Chap, you are always giving me something. I want to give you something,'' and she gave me this parachute bracelet which sits on my desk right now.

So I don't care what goes on on the floor of this House in the big sense because all I have to do is remember that bracelet on my desk and remember why we are here and what that flag means.

This Veterans Day, let us commit ourselves to express our gratitude to America's veterans by remembering their service and sacrifice and, of course, thanking each of the veterans in our own lives in our own way.

Before I yield back, I want it to be known the one who put this together, the gentleman who has become a valued part of my life in the time that we have served together.

Lieutenant Colonel Brad Wenstrup has served in the United States Army Reserve since 1998. In 2005 and 2006, he served a tour in Iraq as a combat surgeon and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge for his service. During his time in Congress, BRAD is fulfilling his Reserve duties by treating patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.

I commit to you, Mr. Speaker, he is serving every day on a place called Capitol Hill with the gifts that he has been entrusted to by his Creator. He is also a soon-to-be dad who will pass along this legacy of service to his child.

With that, I yield back to you, sir.


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