FRANKFORT – On Saturday, our nation will pause to pay tribute to those men and women who, for more than two centuries now, have given their time, talents and, if necessary, life and limb to protect us and countless others around the world.
There have been more than 40 million people who have worn our nation’s uniform since the start of the Revolutionary War, and roughly half of them are still with us today. They are our family, our friends, our neighbors, and their contributions provide the foundation on which we all stand. Without them, our way of life would not be possible.
As a holiday, Veterans Day is one of our newest, having begun nearly a century ago in the aftermath of World War I, which many hoped would truly live up to its informal name, the War to End All Wars.
That conflict ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, which is why the time and date are so important and why the holiday was once known as Armistice Day.
On the one-year anniversary of that peace agreement, President Woodrow explained in a national address why we should always recall this day.
“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, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”
Following World War II and the Korean War, the scope of Armistice Day was broadened to include all veterans.
From the start, Kentucky has always been a major contributor when it comes to protecting our country. During the War of 1812, for example, we had more casualties than every other state’s combined.
It was a Kentuckian who was one of the first, if not the first, American casualty in World War I, and it was a Kentuckian who was the second-to-last American survivor of that war. A native Kentuckian led the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, and it was a Kentuckian who was the first Armed Forces casualty when the Philippine Islands were attacked hours later. One of the most iconic war photos ever, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima during WWII, featured a Kentuckian among the six pictured.
Here at home, we have about 330,000 veterans, and the General Assembly has worked to ensure they and those still serving have what they need. We have three veteran-specific nursing homes, for example, and are dedicating the fourth – the Carl M. Brashear Radcliff Veterans Center – this week. It is the namesake of the first African American to become a master diver in the U.S. Navy, a task made even tougher because his left leg had been amputated several years earlier.
In other actions, the General Assembly has made Veterans Day a state holiday, called on our schools to set aside time to focus on this issue and made it easier for veterans to use their military training when applying for state government and many private-sector jobs. Last year, we passed a law that better recognizes businesses owned by disabled veterans.
There will be many Veterans Day ceremonies this week, so I encourage you to take part if you are able. If you are a veteran, meanwhile, I want you to know that your contributions will always be appreciated and never forgotten. To borrow a line from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”