Veterans Day is a day we set aside as a nation to honor those who have served their nation in war and peace. It is a day to reflect on the deeds of these heroes and stand united in gratitude for their service and sacrifice. We also take this opportunity to honor the enduring service of our active Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. This year, our recognition of veterans and troops is tinged with pain as we mourn the tragic loss of life and injuries of some of our bravest at Fort Hood on November 5th. Their ultimate sacrifice reminds us of how much we owe our men and women in uniform.
Ours is a great nation of free people, and this legacy has endured because, throughout our history, our finest men and women have stood guard and protected the liberty that all Americans enjoy. In peacetime or during conflict, at home or abroad, their service has been characterized by selflessness and a sense of greater purpose. Throughout our history, our nation’s veterans have answered the call, and they have served with dignity and honor.
I am particularly proud that Texas stands out among other states for its rich tradition of military leadership. Texans have continued to volunteer to serve their nation in record numbers and are stationed throughout the United States and in all corners of the globe. More Marines join the Corps from Texas per capita than any other state. And we are home to more Army and Air Force bases than anywhere else in America.
As these men and women have sacrificed, so too has a far less recognized segment of our Veteran population: their families. For each displaced serviceman, there is often a husband or wife left behind. These silent patriots have kissed their husbands or wives goodbye and sent them off to duty, often in harm’s way, without the assurance that their loved ones will return. They diligently run their households while their mates serve at stateside bases or fight on foreign battlefields. The unsung military spouses have often put their own careers on hold and patiently moved the family to the next in a long series of new bases, new neighborhoods, and new schools. Whatever accolades we bestow upon our veterans, we must also remember the parallel sacrifice of their spouses.
Today our troops are answering the call to duty in locations around the world. America’s brave troops are serving from Western Europe to the Far East. Soldiers in South Korea continue to keep watch on the communist regime to their North. The Navy and Coast Guardsmen stand watch over troubled seas, while Air Force pilots fly the skies above the hilltops of Afghanistan, and soldiers and Marines patrol the mean streets of Iraq. Reservists and National Guardsmen continue to serve, at the expense of their civilian professions, on extended active duty for a year or more. Some of our military patriots serve multiple tours because the nation continues to need their expertise.
Another remarkable characteristic of today’s servicemen and women is that, unlike many of the wars that were fought in previous generations, none of our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were drafted into service. Every single one of our present-day soldiers stood and volunteered to go, and they know that service during this time of war means they will likely be in harm’s way. Even so, if you ask one of our troops or the family of one of our fallen heroes why they volunteered, their responses are almost always rooted in patriotism and the desire to be a part of something greater than themselves.
They will also tell you that they have been inspired by the service of their mothers and fathers, their uncles and aunts, and their grandparents. As part of our nation’s duty to honor our Veterans, we must preserve their valorous stories to invigorate future generations.
In 2000, Congress passed a law to begin the Veterans History Project. The Library of Congress is spearheading the first national effort to capture, preserve, and present the personal stories of all living Veterans. The Project is earnestly gathering the first-hand accounts of our eldest patriots who fought in the First and Second World Wars. I ask all Texas Veterans, from the Greatest Generation to the young men and women who have recently returned from service in Iraq or Afghanistan, to weave their own narratives into the vibrant fabric of our nation’s history through this important effort. Veterans can participate, and all Americans can learn about the Project, at http://www.loc.gov/vets/vets-home.html.
On this Veterans Day, it is more appropriate than ever that we acknowledge our veterans’ service and that we honor it by fighting to keep America great in our own daily lives. We can start by remembering those who have gone before and recognizing tomorrow’s veterans who are fighting to keep us free and safe today.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.