By Sen. Jay Rockefeller
Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” — a day to decorate the graves of those who had died during the Civil War — a war out of which West Virginia became a state almost 150 years ago. Today, many battles later, Memorial Day marks a special day of remembrance each year for all those service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.
As West Virginians gather with family and friends this Memorial Day for services, cookouts, and parades, we’ll also be taking the time to celebrate our state’s proud and unique military service.
We in West Virginia know military service well. In our state — where so many West Virginians join the military or are veterans — patriotism and service aren’t just words. They’re in our blood, and they’re points of serious pride.
West Virginians are always ready to step up and serve. Our active duty military members answer the call of duty, often far away from their families, to protect our families. Our state’s National Guard is quick to respond when our communities are faced with disaster and when our country needs defense abroad.
The sacrifice of these West Virginians has afforded us the lives we are able to live each and every day. We owe them so much, yet we know we can never fully repay them or their families. But here’s what we can do: We can make sure our veterans have access to the programs and services they need to rejoin civilian life once they come home. To that end, I have long been working on behalf of our veterans to make sure they get the jobs, health care, and other support services they absolutely deserve and need. And I’m soon convening a roundtable of veterans from across the state in Parkersburg to bring their needs before the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.
Our veterans are people like Jessica Lynch — an Iraq war veteran who was taken prisoner. Or the late Ruby Bradley — who was the most decorated woman in military history. And people like Frederick Mayer, one of the greatest people I’ve met, who risked it all to bring an end to WWII. Theirs are stories of profound bravery and dedication. And they are echoed in each corner of our state.
Sadly, we know too many neighbors and loved ones who have not made it home to share their stories. On Memorial Day we can remember their service and reflect on their dedication to the protection of our country.
We can also honor our veterans by simply thanking them for their service. Just a few small words can go so far in expressing our appreciation for the sacrifices they have made.
This Memorial Day, thank you for recognizing the many brave West Virginians and Americans who fought, and who are fighting today, to protect our freedoms and keep us safe.
— Jay Rockefeller is West Virginia’s senior senator in the U.S. Senate.