Senator John ThuneSouth Dakota’s long winter is finally drawing to a close, and this month we will celebrate Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. But before we lock the schoolhouse door and head to the picnics, swimming pools, and parades, we should pause to remember what Memorial Day is all about: honoring those who have defended our freedom and especially those who have paid the ultimate price.
On May 1, I had the honor of greeting 120 South Dakota World War II veterans who traveled to Washington, DC through the Honor Flight Network. The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization that brings World War II veterans to Washington, DC to visit the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall at no cost to the veterans.
I cannot say enough about what a powerful experience it was to see these heroes visit the Marine Corps War Memorial, which features a statue depicting the famous raising of our flag at Iwo Jima.
The veterans would later visit the World War II Memorial, which is a moving reminder of the sacrifices made by so many to defend freedom on two fronts. I believe every South Dakotan who visits Washington should see it.
In 2000, Congress authorized the creation of a national Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress. Americans are encouraged to collect and preserve the stories of veterans, either though the collection of documents like letters and diaries, or through recorded interviews.
Last year, I interviewed my father, Harold Thune, about his experience as a World War II fighter pilot. He survived numerous combat missions and a fiery crash on the deck of the USS Intrepid, where his squadron of 54 pilots saw 12 friends give their lives.
Through the Veterans History Project, my interviews with my dad are now a part of our nation’s story. Portions of the videos of the interview are available on my website at: https://www.thune.senate.gov, just click on the “Veterans History Project” button.
Memorial Day, Independence Day, and family reunions make summer the perfect time to consider participating in the Veterans History Project with a loved one. The stories of too many of our veterans pass on with them, and this project gives us the opportunity to preserve history for future generations.
The tragic reality is that our nation loses hundreds of World War II veterans every day. Memorial Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of our veterans from every conflict, and it is fitting that we do so. I encourage South Dakotans to learn more about the Veterans History Project by visiting my website, and to learn more about the Honor Flight Network by visiting http://www.honorflight.org. Our veterans deserve to be remembered and celebrated, and these programs help to do just that.