On Veterans Day we remember all those who have served in the United States military. Thanks to my job as a senator, I have been privileged to meet a lot of our South Dakota veterans, as well as our airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base and members of the South Dakota Air and Army National Guard. And it is the honor of my life to represent them in Congress.
Earlier this year, I had the chance to talk to a lot of our veterans at the South Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention, and I was reminded once again how much we owe to these men and women. We live in peace and freedom because of their sacrifices. This year I’ve also had the chance to interact with many men and women who are still serving at several National Guard activation and deactivation ceremonies, and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to hear from our Guard members and from their families, who sacrifice so much to support their loved ones.
I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure that South Dakota has the most outstanding Guard troops in the nation. The South Dakota Air National Guard’s 114th Fighter Wing was recently recognized for the fifth time for combat readiness and unit performance with the Spaatz Trophy. For the second year in a row, the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion received an award for the nation’s most outstanding Army National Guard battalion.
And, of course, congratulations once again to Ellsworth Air Force Base on the most exciting news of the year – being officially selected as the first base to host the B-21 bomber. I couldn’t be prouder to welcome this mission in the years ahead.
On Veterans Day and every day, I remember my favorite veteran of all, my dad Harold Thune. My father was a fighter pilot who flew Hellcats off the U.S.S. Intrepid in the Pacific theater during World War II, and I came to know the Greatest Generation through him – their humility, their quiet service, their deep patriotism, and their dedication to the cause of freedom. My dad died last year, and I have always been grateful that I was able to sit down with him for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project to hear about his service.
Of course, he kept turning the conversation to those he served with. Like other members of the Greatest Generation – and so many of the veterans I’ve met – my dad wasn’t interested in bragging about his achievements. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross, but he didn’t talk about that. What he did like to talk about was the men he served with, and what they did.
Between my dad and the opportunities I have had to interact with our airmen and Guard members and with generations of South Dakota veterans, I know very well that members of the military are a special breed. They are men and women of purpose, driven by a love of country, a commitment to their comrades, and a desire to protect the innocent from danger. I am grateful every day to the men and women of our nation’s military, who stand guard around the world so that we can live in peace and freedom. I am also profoundly grateful to their families, who sacrifice time with their loved ones and shoulder many tasks alone to ensure their loved ones can complete their mission.
This Veterans Day, those who served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years are on my mind and heart in a special way. I know it was painful for many of them to watch the Afghanistan withdrawal and see the Taliban take over, and to know that the safety of many security partners, interpreters, and their families, as well as the lives of millions of Afghans, remain at the mercy of the Taliban. But I want our veterans to know that their work was not in vain. They helped keep terrorism away from our nation for two decades and introduced a generation of Afghans to freedom. And I am convinced that the seeds of liberty they sowed will yet bear fruit.
To South Dakota veterans, and to all those who have served our nation, thank you. We owe you a debt we can never repay.