Opinion: Keeping a promise
Courage is often talked about but seldom witnessed. But there are some whose courage never fails to inspire us all: our nation’s veterans.
Each year on Nov. 11, Americans come together to celebrate and honor our nation’s veterans — the generations of men and women who have served our country with valor. It is a day when we express our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of those who have protected our way of life and allowed us to remain the strongest, freest and greatest nation in the world. Our nation’s veterans did not sacrifice for Republicans or Democrats; they sacrificed for the greater good of our country.
It is an often overlooked fact that Veterans Day came about thanks to the patriotism of a single Kansan. Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, created to commemorate veterans who served in World War I. Armistice Day was first recognized on Nov. 11, 1919, when veterans who survived the war marched in parades as hometown heroes. Nineteen years later, the U.S. Congress formally dedicated Nov. 11 as a national holiday.
Several decades later, after thousands of veterans had returned from both World War II and Korea, a shoe store owner from Emporia named Al King began talking with his friends and neighbors about the need to recognize the service of all veterans who bravely defended our country. His fellow Kansans quickly supported the idea, and on Nov. 11, 1953, Emporia’s businesses and schools closed their doors to celebrate the first-ever all-inclusive Veterans Day. Six months later, the U.S. Congress passed a bill introduced by then-U.S. Representative Ed Rees from Kansas to formally change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Shortly thereafter, President Eisenhower signed the bill into law.
But celebrating those who served is about more than a single day — the biggest way we can honor our veterans is by keeping our promises to them. One of the greatest privileges I have as a U.S. senator is the opportunity to be of immediate and direct assistance to Kansas veterans. As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I am committed to helping those who have served get exactly what they have been promised for their service, from disability compensation and pension benefits to education benefits and health appointments. In some instances, we have even helped veterans get long-overdue medals.
Recently my office was contacted by Susan Thomas, the daughter of Charlie Wilber of Belleville, who earned a Purple Heart during his service in the Korean War but never received the medal. In 1951, Charlie was injured in battle when an enemy grenade landed in his foxhole. Although he was wounded, he continued to fight alongside the men of his company until he was no longer able. Like all the men and women who answer our country’s call to serve, Charlie wasn’t concerned with receiving special recognition for his sacrifice. After his service was complete, he returned home to his family in Belleville and didn’t worry about obtaining the medals he had earned.
Decades later, Susan and the rest of Charlie’s family decided to pursue trying to obtain his Purple Heart, but during the process they were told his service records had been destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in 1973.
It was a four-year process for the Wilber family, but this Veterans Day, Korean War veteran Charlie Wilber received his Purple Heart along with several other service medals in a special ceremony in Belleville. I was humbled to have the honor of presenting them to him. Sixty years after his injury, this distinguished war hero received the honor he deserves.
Should you need assistance or know a veteran who needs assistance with getting proper Veterans Affairs benefits, or with long-overdue/replacement medals, please do not hesitate to utilize the services of my casework office by calling (785) 232-2605. You can also submit a casework request by visiting my website at moran.senate.gov.
I hope you used this Veterans Day to honor and celebrate the veterans in your life. Whether it’s your sister, dad, grandpa or neighbor, it’s important to take a moment to thank them for their courage and sacrifice, which has preserved the freedoms we all enjoy today. May God bless our servicemen and women, our veterans and the country we all love.