On the heels of a pivotal national election, I’d like to remind Americans that it is our troops’ service and sacrifice that safeguards our precious right to cast those ballots and savor the freedoms that we hold dear. They represent the best of America.
Today, we honor all U.S. veterans and troops currently serving for their unwavering courage and dedication to keeping our nation strong and protecting the liberties we continue to enjoy. We also pay tribute to the wounded, missing, fallen and their families.
My father, Ray, fought and was wounded in World War II in the Battle of the Bulge. I served in the U.S. Air Force in Korea, and I’m also an honorary Marine.
This year the Defense Department is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War. At the height of the war, both of my brothers, Wieland and Aaron, enlisted in the U.S. Army. As a veteran, I understood their desire to serve, and I concurred with their decision to enlist. Wieland paid the ultimate price on June 3, 1970, and his name is etched among the 58,000 fallen service men and women on the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, D.C.
We must never forget that freedom comes at a cost. As we go about our daily lives, our military men and woman make incredibly valiant sacrifices every day. In fact, more than 1,500 Americans have lost a leg or arm in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Defense Department, 50,159 have been wounded and 5,225 have made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, 60,000 U.S. troops are still at war. Many of our brave men and women these days face multiple overseas deployments, traumatic combat experiences and years away from their families. They endure unimaginable hardships so you and I may relish our freedoms here at home.
In 2010, my wife, Gena, and I visited West Point, where the thousands of young cadets blew us away with how ready and eager they were to serve their country. Since then, we have also visited the wounded at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center along with Brooke Army Medical Center and its Center for the Intrepid.
During our visits to the medical centers, we were greatly moved by the care our veterans and military service members have been receiving. We were able to hear several stories as the wounded were eager to share their personal journeys with us. Those experiences were life changing, and we encourage everyone to go and visit our brothers and sisters at military hospitals across the nation. They need and welcome the company, and they must be reminded that we care about them and they haven’t been forgotten.
That’s why we are so grateful for wonderful organizations such as Sons of the Flag, a nonprofit group that provides critical support to military service members, first responders and civilians who have survived burn injuries.
In what is certain to be a breathtaking show, Sons of the Flag has assembled a team of U.S. veterans from every war – going back to World War II until now – that will complete a tandem skydive jump in front of the Dallas Cowboys football stadium on Nov. 18, 2012, as the Cowboys take on the Cleveland Browns in Arlington, Texas. Once the veterans exit the plane, they will circle an American flag in flight. (That flag will be auctioned off, with the full proceeds going to Sons of the Flag.) The event will be broadcast live on the Cowboys’ jumbotron approximately 30 minutes before kickoff. Once the team has landed, the veterans will deliver the game coin.
Another incredible organization is TAPS, or Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which helps families who have lost loved ones in combat. Both Sons of the Flag and TAPS are unique in what they offer and take that extra step to help our veterans and families.
Gena and I also applaud Give 2 the Troops, a fantastic nonprofit organization that has supported approximately one million deployed U.S. troops with loving care packages and letters from all over the nation since December 2002.
We know there are many great and noble organizations out there doing wonderful work, and we commend them all for their efforts.
Today, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, there are more than 21 million living veterans who served our nation in times of peace and war.
Please take a moment to thank them for their sacrifice.
And if you’ve served this great nation in our armed forces, may God bless you and your family. We are deeply grateful for your selfless commitment to ensuring the spirit of freedom is as strong as ever.