Local soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today is Veterans Day, a day to honor and pay tribute to the nearly 25 million veterans who have served and who continue to serve the United States.

The holiday was originally known as Armistice Day in celebration and remembrance of the armistice, or truce, which was signed on Monday, Nov. 11, 1918, ending World War I. The following year, President Woodrow Wilson issued an Armistice Day proclamation declaring that "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory."

At the time, World War I had surpassed all other wars in terms of its level of destruction. It was thought to be the war to end all wars. When the truce that brought down the curtain on the war was finally signed, the entire world rejoiced. Americans continued to acknowledge the courage of WWI veterans on each November thereafter, and in 1938, Congress passed a bill officially designating Nov. 11 as the day to "be dedicated to the cause of world peace and ... hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day."

Nearly two decades later, after World War II ended, several communities renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day to honor all veterans who had fought in American wars. On May 24, 1954, Congress followed suit and officially changed the name to Veterans Day.

Official national ceremonies for Veterans Day take place at Arlington National Cemetery, our country's most historic military cemetery. The cemetery is located in Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Ceremonies take place at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which represents the brave missing and unknown service members of four different wars. The tomb is engraved with "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God," and inside lie the remains of one unknown American soldier from World War I, World War II and the Korean Conflict. Remains from an unknown Vietnam soldier were also in the tomb until 1998 when they were exhumed and, after DNA testing, determined to be of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. Lieutenant Blassie's family has entombed his remains near their home in St. Louis.

At 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Veterans Day, a color guard representing all military services — Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard — executes the formal salute with a rifle, called "Present Arms," at the Tomb of the Unknowns. This is the military's collective way of showing respect for all the unknown dead from America's wars. To symbolize our nation's tribute to those who died in war, the president, or his representative, places a wreath on the tomb followed by the playing of Taps.

Veterans are courageous men and women who chose to potentially sacrifice their lives in order to install social and political equality in various parts of the world. Each of them has a story to tell. Cape Girardeau is home to a Missouri Veterans Home where 150 veterans reside. I encourage you to visit with them.

I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and I would like to pay tribute to the members of the military from Southeast Missouri who lost their lives in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom:

Staff Sgt. Charles R. Sanders, Jr. of Charleston: April 6, 2005

Sgt. Robert G. Davis of Jackson: Aug. 18, 2005

Spc. Blake W. Hall of East Prairie: Aug. 21, 2005

Cpl. Jeremy R. Shank of Jackson: Sept. 6, 2006

Staff Sgt. Bradley J. Skelton of Gordonville: Feb. 6, 2008

Sgt. Adam J. Kohlhaas of Perryville: April 21, 2008

This Veterans Day remember those who are currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. These future veterans continue our nation's proud tradition of fighting for the freedom that our forefathers secured for us.

Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau represents the 27th District in the Missouri Senate.

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