Recent Op-Eds

A Salute to Veterans and Military Families

By Sen. John Thune

November 4, 2022

From war zones and disaster areas to cutting-edge research and unparalleled leadership, the men and women of the U.S. military continue to inspire through their selfless service. Throughout our nation’s nearly 250-year history, the tasks we ask of our military heroes have changed considerably, but their commitment to defending our country and our national interests remains resolute.

On November 11, we recognize Veterans Day, and we celebrate Veterans and Military Families Month throughout November. I am proud to represent the 65,000 veterans and the thousands of military families who call South Dakota home. The men and women who have served and continue to serve our country are a special breed of patriots, and they and their families have made considerable sacrifices to secure the freedoms we hold dear.

Veterans have a lot to be proud of, but if you ask them about their service, you’re much more likely to hear about the men and women they served with rather than their own achievements. I encountered this humility growing up. My dad, Harold Thune, was a Navy pilot who flew Hellcats off of the U.S.S. Intrepid in the Pacific theater during World War II. My dad won the Distinguished Flying Cross, but that’s not what he talked about. He did, however, talk about Cecil Harris, among many others. Cecil was one of South Dakota’s aces, whose advice for a deft maneuver saved my dad’s life during a dogfight. Hearing those stories are among my fondest memories.

Earlier this year, we lost the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, who said he wore the medal in honor of the men he served with who did not return home. These warriors who helped save the world didn’t brag about their achievements. They deflected praise. This same humility was on display in the Webster Area High School gym last month, where I had the privilege of participating in a medal presentation for Vietnam veteran Wayne Wasilk of Grenville, who used the occasion to call attention not to himself, but to the heroic actions of the nurses he served with during the war.

While we can never fully repay the debt we owe our veterans, we have a responsibility to ensure they receive all of the benefits they’re owed, which is something I take very seriously as a U.S. senator. I have successfully fought for over a decade to prevent closures or service reductions at VA facilities in South Dakota to ensure veterans can continue receiving the health care they need close to home. Veterans pledged their lives to the service of our country, and they took upon themselves the burden of defending liberty for the rest of us. We must stand behind our promise to care for them when they return home, which includes keeping our state’s VA facilities open.

I am also deeply committed to ensuring that our military has everything it needs to deter threats and protect America. And, as always, Ellsworth Air Force Base is at the top of my priority list. I am currently working to continue making the needed investments in the facilities and other infrastructure that Ellsworth will need to host the future B-21 mission, as well as to ensure the influx of military families that will move to the area have adequate school capacity and housing access.

Veterans and military families have made tremendous sacrifices to secure our freedoms. We owe them, and the generations that came before them, our eternal gratitude. This month, let us take the opportunity to salute these great Americans and never forget the tremendous price they pay in their service.