During the month of May, we mark Military Appreciation Month, Armed Forces Day, and Memorial Day. It is a time to honor those who have served and continue to serve our nation in uniform and to reflect on the patriotic values that these brave men and women embody. It’s an opportunity to remember those who have fought and died for our freedoms. And it’s a chance to renew our commitment to honor their memory.
South Dakota has a rich heritage of military service. Generations of South Dakotans have left the comforts of home to answer the call to serve. I would guess there are few families in our state that don’t have a family member or a friend who has spent time in uniform. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Small-town values like hard work, integrity, community, and humility shape a desire to work for something larger than oneself. I saw this firsthand in my dad, who grew up in Murdo and flew Hellcats off the U.S.S. Intrepid during World War II. Dad was the embodiment of those small-town values that made his generation of Americans the Greatest Generation, and they’re still the hallmark of those serving today.
It might be hard to imagine how a small-town kid could play a role in world events, but countless South Dakotans, including my dad and patriots like Cecil Harris from Cresbard, have distinguished themselves in advancing the cause of freedom. Nine South Dakotans have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for going beyond the call of duty. Among the South Dakotans who have received the nation’s highest military honor are soldiers like Captain Arlo Olson from Toronto, who died bravely leading an assault in Italy during World War II; Private Herbert Littleton from Black Hawk, who threw himself on a hand grenade to save his comrades’ lives during the Korean War; and Major Patrick Brady of Philip, who, as a Huey pilot, saved 51 seriously wounded men in one day in Vietnam.
Soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and guardians do extraordinary things, but when you ask most veterans about their service, they often turn the conversation to those they served with, especially those who never came home. In every generation, South Dakotans have given their lives in defense of our country and the values we hold dear. South Dakota’s fallen are memorialized in monuments across the state, ensuring their sacrifice is not forgotten by the generations who enjoy the freedom that their service helped secure. I was humbled by the recent opportunity to greet dozens of South Dakota Vietnam and Korean War veterans at the war memorials built in our nation’s capital to honor their service and sacrifice to the nation.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who chose service above self and were willing to give their lives for our country. We owe them our eternal gratitude. And we owe it to their memory to preserve the security and liberty they helped protect or, in the words of President Lincoln, to “take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”