This week our nation celebrates Veterans Day. It is a special and sacred day for Americans, where we take a moment out of our busy lives to say thank you to the men and women who have served our country in times of peace and war, and sacrificed much so that we all may enjoy freedom.
Our gratitude to our nation’s veterans shouldn’t be limited to one day a year. Just as members of the armed services work year round, we should spend time every week letting veterans know we understand and appreciate their sacrifices to protect democracy.
My father was a veteran of World War II. He served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Like many in his generation, he didn’t talk much about his time in the military, but he did teach me to always say thank you to veterans. And I do, whenever I can, regardless of whether the person served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, the War on Terror, or during a time of peace. Our nation would not be what it is today without the dedication and determination of our brave veterans.
West Virginians are proud of our history and our citizens’ contributions in our never-ending fight for America’s freedom. Our state was born from war, and we have never shied away from the call to sacrifice ourselves and our loved ones for our nation. Our state is home to more than 175,000 veterans, 130,000 of whom served during wartime, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. (1) In fact, 11.1 percent of West Virginians served in the military, putting us in a tie with Hawaii and Wyoming for having the eighth largest per capita population of veterans. (2)
That is quite an impressive statistic. But it is a reminder too, that we as a state must do everything we can to advocate for veterans and ensure they receive the care, treatment and respect they so deserve. As a resident of Jefferson County, I have become quite familiar with the story of Frank Buckles, a Jefferson County resident and the last American veteran of World War I. Mr. Buckles, who died in 2011 at the age of 110, crusaded mightily for the District of Columbia War Memorial to be refurbished and dedicated as the National World War I Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Even in his 100s, he testified before Congress, beseeching our nation’s leaders to establish a monument honoring Americans who fought and sacrificed their lives in the so-called War to End All Wars nearly a century ago. Veterans, regardless of age, should never have to fight to be honored in our nation’s capital, nor should they ever be kept from the memorials built as a tribute to their service.
While Mr. Buckle’s death marked the last of the World War I veterans in our state and nation, West Virginia is still home to approximately 12,000 World War II veterans, 14,000 Korean War veterans and 60,000 Vietnam War veterans. In addition, 44,000 West Virginians served during the Gulf Wars and the ongoing War on Terror. Each of them has a story to tell. They sacrificed much for their love of America. They traveled to distant places and served our nation because it was the right thing to do.
As we reflect on Veterans Day and the gift of freedom we enjoy, my hope is that each of us take a moment out of our busy lives to thank a veteran or the family of a veteran for sacrificing so much without any expectation of glory or honor. Veteran deserve at least that and much more.
Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.