While Abraham Lincoln thought “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here …,” he underestimated the importance of what would become one of the greatest speeches in American history. He didn’t expect people to remember the words he said on that Gettysburg battlefield, but he hoped they would instead remember and honor the men who gave “the last full measure of devotion” to their cause. Words matter, but it’s what they mean that truly counts.
With Memorial Day right around the corner, Lincoln’s tribute to the fallen is also a good reminder that the cause of freedom and democracy is a long road, and it continues to come at a cost – one that America has never and will never be able to fully repay. That’s why each generation of Americans is tasked with the special responsibility of ensuring that the service and sacrifice made by our men and women in uniform never goes unnoticed or unappreciated.
Congress recently helped deliver on that responsibility when it sent to the president my bill that will double the size of the Black Hills National Cemetery (BHNC) near Sturgis by permanently transferring approximately 200 acres of adjacent land to the BHNC. This is the culmination of a years-long initiative that will help to continue honoring our heroes – now and for generations to come. It’s a small, yet meaningful gesture to our service members and their families.
This has long been a priority for me, which is why I joined my South Dakota Senate colleague, Mike Rounds, and our neighbor to the west, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), whose constituents also look to the BHNC as a place to honor their loved ones, in reintroducing this bill during the first week of the 115th Congress. I’m grateful for everything Sens. Rounds and Enzi and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) did to help get this bill across the finish line.
America has been blessed by having so many brave men and women who’ve answered the call to duty throughout our history. Since the very beginning, when we fought for our independence in the Revolutionary War, there’s always been a group of freedom fighters who were willing to lay it all on the line. One of the greatest examples of this heroism is the men and women who served during World War II. Sadly, the group of soldiers who returned home from that war is only getting smaller by the day.
That’s why I was honored to have recently met a few of these South Dakota service members in Washington, D.C., including dozens from the Korea and Vietnam conflicts, at the very memorials that are dedicated to their service. I have to say, there’s nothing quite like seeing these veterans at their memorials being greeted and celebrated by Americans eight decades or more their junior. It’s a literal representation of that generational responsibility to honor these heroes and ensure they aren’t forgotten.
Whether it’s Memorial Day or Veterans Day or any day in between, we should always offer our gratitude to the people who have given the rest of us the gift of freedom and democracy. Remember those we’ve lost, and honor those who have or continue to serve. Having seen it firsthand during this recent honor flight in Washington, a simple and sincere “thank you” goes far further than you might imagine.