Saturday, October 31, 2009

Remembering our nation's veterans

Weekly column by Senator Collins

For more than two centuries, young Americans have left the comfort and security of home in order to preserve our freedom and to extend the blessings of freedom to others. Veterans Day is a solemn anniversary-- a day set aside not to celebrate victory in a great battle, but to honor the sacrifice that brought peace. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was not marked by the roar of cannon. Rather, it was the moment the guns were silenced by courage, devotion to duty, and a commitment to freedom.
The virtues that brought about that silence echo through the ages. It is appropriate that Veterans Day now honors all who have defended our nation. Whether they serve in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, or the Merchant Marine, whether they serve in the regular forces, the National Guard or the Reserves, they sacrificed much to serve our country.
It was my father who taught me to honor our veterans. A World War II veteran, my father earned his Purple Heart when he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. From my father, I learned that the heroes who wear the uniforms of America’s armed forces are peace-loving, caring men and women who put aside the comforts of civilian life to advance the cause of freedom.
The men and women we honor on Veterans Day have paid the price of our freedom in times of conflict, and they are our shield in times of peace. We honor those who paid the ultimate price.  We honor those who lived beyond their years of military service and returned home. And we honor those who serve today. We owe them all a great debt.
We repay that debt in part with the gratitude we express on Veterans Day, but only in part.  Today, nearly 24 million Americans proudly wear the title of veteran.  There are more than 136,000 veterans right here in our great state of Maine.   In addition to our gratitude, we must also repay our debt with health care, rehabilitation services, educational and employment opportunities that our veterans have earned by their sacrifice to our country.  As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I support the Fiscal Year 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.  The Senate version includes $53.2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $50 million for a new Rural Clinic Initiative to help provide additional Community Based Outreach Clinics in rural areas such as Maine.  The bill also includes $250 million to continue a Rural Health Initiative, created last year, that is specifically aimed at improving medical care for veterans in rural areas.
We are fortunate to live in a state in which so many have served our nation with honor, and in which so many join together to honor those who serve. From the Troop Greeters at Bangor International Airport to the many citizens who volunteer countless hours to helping and supporting our vets, to the veterans service organizations, the people of Maine have always expressed our gratitude with generosity and a spirit of caring.
As we honor those who serve, we should also remember the parents, the wives and husbands, the children and other loved ones of our veterans and our troops. The families left behind must face the challenges of daily living as they endure the separation and the relentless worry. Their sacrifices are great, and we must thank them as well.
The Americans we honor on Veterans Day fought for the security of our nation, and for benefit of mankind. Those who serve today – the veterans of tomorrow – carry on this great mission.   They have earned our deepest thanks, not just on Veterans Day, but for all the days to come.

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