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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today honored the dedicated men and women who serve or have served in the United States military. Thune spoke about his experiences meeting with South Dakota veterans on Honor Flights – a nonprofit organization that brings veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials created in their honor.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, engraved on a wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., are these words: ‘Freedom is not free.’
“‘Freedom is not free.’
“It’s a stark reminder that our freedom has come at a cost.
“That it has been bought and paid for in blood.
“In dark days and terrifying nights of battle.
“In fear and loneliness.
“In Christmases and holidays and birthdays spent far from home.
“In visible wounds, and in invisible ones.
“And on Veterans Day above all, we remember this.
“We remember that we live in peace and freedom because men and women have answered our country’s call.
“Have stepped up and said, ‘I will serve.’
“And have paid a price for that service.
“Mr. President, one of my greatest honors as a U.S. senator is having the opportunity to interact with military veterans.
“And in addition to meeting veterans around South Dakota, I’ve had the immense privilege of visiting with veterans who come to D.C. on Honor Flights.
“For anyone not familiar with the organization, Honor Flight is a nonprofit that exists to bring military veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials created in their honor.
“At its inception it focused on bringing World War II veterans to D.C., but now, with members of the Greatest Generation few and far between, Honor Flights have been filling up with veterans of Korea and Vietnam, as well as critically ill veterans from all eras.
“I’ve been lucky enough to participate in three Honor Flight visits so far this year organized by Midwest Honor Flight, our local Honor Flight hub in South Dakota.
“And the chance to interact with these heroes who have sacrificed to defend and preserve American freedoms is not something I take for granted.
“Seeing the look in their eyes as they visit the memorials – knowing that for some it will be the last opportunity they have to visit – is a profound privilege and a reminder of all these men and women have given for our country.
“It’s also deeply moving to hear from the family members who accompany these veterans, a number of whom have told me how cathartic these visits have been for their loved ones – sometimes marking the first time they’ve really talked about their wartime experience.
“Mr. President, on multiple occasions when I’ve been down at the memorials visiting with Honor Flight veterans, I’ve seen students with school groups come up to the veterans to thank them.
“It’s an amazing thing to witness.
“And it’s made me reflect on just how important it is that children have these opportunities to see and thank our veterans – and to understand what they’ve given us.
“Ronald Reagan once said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’
“Freedom is indeed a fragile thing, Mr. President.
“It’s easy to take it for granted when you have it.
“But it is not a guarantee, and it must indeed be fought for and defended constantly by each generation.
“And seeing those schoolchildren interact with the veterans who have helped secure our freedom reminded me of the importance of handing down an understanding of that freedom to our children.
“Of teaching them just what our military men and women have fought and died for.
“And of reminding them that it will be their responsibility to preserve it.
“Seeing those schoolchildren and veterans interact, Mr. President, also reminded me that we should hold up our veterans to our young people not just as examples to revere, but as examples to imitate.
“We should make sure that young people know that serving their country in the U.S. military is one of the noblest paths they could take.
“And that while the military life is a life of sacrifice, it is also a life of meaning and purpose.
“One that offers pride, and brotherhood, and the lasting knowledge that your labor has made a difference.
“Mr. President, on Veterans Day and every day, I am grateful to those who have answered our nation’s call and taken up arms in defense of liberty.
“May God bless all the men and women who serve or have served in the United States military.
“And may He help us to live lives worthy of their sacrifice.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”