Remembering our veterans

Each year, my Senate office holds a poetry contest for Minnesota students so that they can write about the “veteran in their lives.” Often they write about a parent or another close friend or relative who has left home for extended periods to serve our nation in the armed forces. 

As I read the winning entries, I’m always struck by the descriptions of the great sacrifice our service members and their families must make so that our freedoms are protected. One winner expressed her appreciation this way: The ones who had loved/The ones who had laughed/The one who died/Helping you to survive/They will never be forgotten. In so many of these poems, you can see the admiration the students have for the people they write about, leaving little doubt about the deep impression the experience has had on their lives.

As we celebrate Veterans Day, I hope all Americans can see, as I have, the tremendous sacrifices our veterans—and also their families—have made on our behalf, and to remember that service.

As a Senator, I’ve taken a number of trips to Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington, D.C. to visit wounded veterans who know, firsthand, the stark realities of war. These are the servicemembers who have returned from battle with both visible and invisible wounds, but who – despite their own sacrifices – often care more about their fellow servicemembers, especially those who didn’t make it home.

President Ronald Reagan may have said it best on Veterans Day in 1985, when he described four Marines killed while serving their country. He said, “they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember.”

Those are powerful words.  With those we’ve lost, all we can do is remember. But with those who came back, we can do more. We can – and we must – act. We must do everything in our power to help them live that second life – the one they should be able to enjoy when they come home.

We have to remind ourselves that servicemembers’ battles don’t always end when they return home, and that we must keep our promises to them. That’s why we can’t stop fighting to make certain that they get the care they need at our veteran health care facilities – and as just as importantly – that it’s delivered in a timely manner. It’s also why we need to honor our promises on education, training and housing benefits so that they are there when they need them.

Recruiting Veterans to Tell Their Stories

This year, as part of my effort to remember and honor our veterans, I announced a new initiative to recruit Minnesota war veterans to take part in the national “Veterans History Project” (VHP). The effort is designed to collect and preserve our veterans’ personal accounts so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war and their sacrifices on behalf of our nation.

I want the voices of as many Minnesota veterans as possible to be part of the national VHP archives being collected by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The archives are available to everyone, including veterans and their families, as well as students studying American history and academic scholars researching America at war.

The current collection not only includes audio and video interviews with veterans but also letters, diaries, photos—anything that can help tell a veteran’s story and be added to the archive.

In October, I had the honor of interviewing a Minnesota veteran for the project, and for the last few months, my staff has been working with the Library of Congress to help train dozens of people interested in participating in the project—something my office will continue doing in the months to come.

This is just one way of honoring our vets—something we need to do all year round. And I hope everyone reading this will do something to help improve the life a veteran.

Al Franken represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.