Senator John ThuneThere are few South Dakotans who do not have a friend of family member who is a veteran of our Armed Forces. This Veterans Day, South Dakotans will show their gratitude for those loved ones who served and remember especially those who gave their lives in defense of our freedom.
Recently, our veterans won a significant victory when the President signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act. I was honored to attend the signing ceremony for this bill at the White House. This new law requires Congress to allow advance funding for all Veterans Affairs medical programs, starting next year. In the past, veterans health care funding has frequently been held up by political games, creating uncertainty among veterans and their advocacy associations about whether programs will be fully funded. I appreciate the support this bill received from veterans groups in South Dakota such as the Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
We celebrate Veterans Day every year on November 11 in recognition of the anniversary of the armistice signed to end World War I. World War I was a critical turning point in the history of our nation and the world, when the United States took an important step toward fighting aggression overseas. World War I may seem like a distant historical event, but it is nonetheless an important part of both our state and nation's history. Over 30,000 South Dakotas served in World War I, which was just over five percent of the state's population. Of those who served, 217 made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom and way of life.
Recently, I joined Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Jim Webb (D-VA) in introducing the bipartisan Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act, named in honor of Frank Buckles of West Virginia, America's last surviving World War I veteran. Mr. Buckles attended the Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore in 2008, where he was recognized for his World War I service.
The legislation that I recently introduced would rededicate the existing District of Columbia War Memorial as the National and District of Columbia World War I Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Although long overdue, this bill is an important way of recognizing over four million Americans who served during World War I.
The existing memorial honors the 499 District of Columbia residents who died in World War I. The bipartisan national memorial project would make needed repairs to the existing memorial as well as incorporate additional recognition to honor all of those who served in "The Great War." Like the World War II Memorial, this project would be managed by a private foundation and funded through private contributions, not taxpayer money.
Finally, I encourage readers to take advantage of the Veterans History Project, an oral history initiative by the Library of Congress to document the experiences of veterans' service during our nation's wars. You can begin the process of documenting the experience of a friend or family member who served by visiting my website, thune.senate.gov, and clicking on the Veterans History Project button. Veterans Day is an opportunity for all Americans to thank those who have given so much in service to our nation. It is also an opportunity for government leaders to recognize ways we can better serve those who have done so much to protect our liberty. I am honored to work with all of the veterans groups in South Dakota to address veterans' health care and benefits needs, and I welcome the input from individual veterans as well. Working together, we can truly show our appreciation on Veterans Day, and every day as well.