Honoring our heroic veterans

13 years ago

As Mainers and Americans gather this November 11th to recognize Veterans’ Day, all of us pause to commemorate the service and sacrifice of our phenomenal veterans. From our founding to the present, America has been tested time and again, and our democracy – and our love of liberty that undergirds it – has not only survived, but thrived.

As a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have had the high privilege of witnessing firsthand the unwavering dedication to duty and consummate professionalism of our exceptional men and women serving in uniform on the frontlines in Afghanistan and Iraq. They exemplify the steadfast courage that demonstrates why our armed forces are second to none and the finest on the planet. This Veterans’ Day in particular assumes an even greater significance as just two months ago, this nation solemnly recognized the 10th remembrance of September 11, 2001, while just over a month ago – on October 7 – marked ten years since the start of our military operations in Afghanistan.

In Maine, all of us can be proud of the combined efforts between leaders of our military and our schools in the noble undertaking of saluting our veterans through the Take a Veteran to School Day initiative. The program brings veterans into our institutions of learning to share their personal stories of service and sacrifice for the nation with students and educators. It has become an invaluable opportunity for students to learn what Veterans’ Day and serving our nation in uniform truly means – and it provides a unique chance to express a heartfelt and well-earned “thank you” to the brave men and women who from generation to generation have woven the fabric of America’s greatness.

In thinking about this noble endeavor to pair our veterans – who are the very best of who we are as Mainers and Americans – with the next generation who represents the very best of who and what we can be as a people and a nation, I recall something President Ronald Reagan once aptly said, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Mindful as we are of our veterans still with us today, we must also keep at the forefront the solemn and sacred honor earned by those who have passed away – and that means safeguarding our military funerals from detestable disruptions. For our military families, it is painful enough to lose a loved one without then having to confront repugnant protests that compound their agony and anguish. Those families have more than earned the right to lay their loved one to rest uninterrupted and with the reverence the occasion commands. That is why I have authored bipartisan legislation known as the SERVE Act – for “Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans.”

First Amendment rights are sacrosanct, but given the one-time nature of a funeral service, it is not too much to ask to increase quiet time before and after military funerals from 60 minutes to 120 minutes, increase the buffer around a military funeral from 150 feet to 300 feet, increase from 300 feet to 500 feet the buffer around access routes to a funeral service area, and provide for civil penalties against violators of the law – all of which my bill does.

Ending these repugnant actions is a matter our nation ought to be able to coalesce around, and I hope that Congress will provide its full support for America’s true heroes and their families. To those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we owe them and their families an eternal debt of gratitude we can never repay, but must never, ever forget. And we will not forget!

Indeed, Maine has the tremendous distinction, on any given day, of having the second most veterans per capita of any state in the nation. If that isn’t proof positive that our motto “Dirigo” or “I Lead” is a credo we actually live by, then I don’t know what is. Let us all salute our heroic veterans who have so nobly defended our country and way of life. That they have done so in order to ensure the blessings of liberty makes us grateful beyond words.