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Of all the holidays the nation celebrates each year, only one calls on us to pay close attention to the clock: Veterans Day.
We pause on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month because, in 1918, it marked the formal end of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson hoped it would be “the war to end all wars,” and while that did not prove true, the 23 years between then and our entry into World War II remains the longest peacetime span in our country’s history.
Only one American soldier from World War I is still with us today: Frank Buckles, now 109 and living in West Virginia. Just 16 when he joined – he lied about his age – he sailed to Europe on the same ship that had rescued survivors of the Titanic five years earlier.
While Nov. 11 was initially set aside to honor those who took part in World War I, the day’s focus was broadened in 1954 to include all veterans.
Kentucky, not surprisingly, has a long record of doing more than her fair share for our country.
About 84,000 Kentuckians served in World War I, and more than three-and-a-half times as many answered the call of duty during World War II.
Tens of thousands more joined their ranks in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and stand at the ready at Fort Knox, Fort Campbell and dozens of other installations across the Commonwealth.
Since the beginning of the Revolutionary War, 42 million Americans have given their time, their talents and, if necessary, even their life and limb on our behalf. More than half of those soldiers are still with us today, including 339,000 Kentuckians.
The General Assembly has worked hard over the years to ensure these men and women are given the respect and care they deserve.
It has dedicated money to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., for example, and made it possible for older veterans to receive their high school diplomas if they were otherwise unable to finish high school because of their service.
Last year, my colleagues and I exempted all military pay from the state income tax, and this year we made it possible for all veterans who are permanently and totally disabled to stay up to three nights for free at our state parks each year.
We also initiated a new program to connect combat veterans who have been arrested with programs designed to help them overcome such things as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Over the last two decades, the General Assembly has built three nursing homes dedicated solely to veterans, and it also authorized a series of cemeteries for them. The fourth opened a little more than a month ago, and a fifth in Southeastern Kentucky is planned in the near future. Our goal is to ensure that no Kentuckian is more than 75 miles from one of these cemeteries.
Veterans Day may be a holiday, a time away from school or work, but it is so much more than that. If you cannot take part in one of the many ceremonies scheduled in our community and across the country on Nov. 11, I encourage you to take at least a few moments to recognize the countless sacrifices that paved the way for the freedom we enjoy today.
If you know a veteran, please take the time to thank them for all that did for us, and if you are veteran, always know that your service will never be forgotten or taken for granted.
No one summed up that feeling better than Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, who gathered his troops in France on Nov. 12, 1918, one day after the end of World War I. What he told them could be said to any veteran: “Your deeds will live forever on the most glorious pages of American history.”
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.