Weekly Column

Nov 05 2019

Freedom Lives On

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In June, it was one of the greatest honors of my life to gather at “freedom’s altar” in Normandy, France, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I was overwhelmed with both gratitude and pride for our men and women who ensure that our freedom lives on and evil is vanquished.

75 years earlier, minutes from where I was standing, Corporal Ed Morrissette arrived on Omaha Beach with the 6th Infantry Regiment. As the Omaha World Herald reports, “He leaped over the side of the landing craft into shoulder-deep water, carrying a roll of communications wire.” Morrissette recalled holding the wire and his rifle above water as he waded through the water, dodging an onslaught of enemy artillery fire.

By the grace of God, he completed his mission and survived the Normandy invasion. Cpl. Morrissette continued fighting for our nation in France and Germany. Following the war, his career as a civilian engineer eventually led him to Offutt Air Force Base. 

Recently, his courage and dedication were recognized. At the age of 96, the government of France awarded Cpl. Morrissette the highest military or civilian medal – the French Legion of Honor. Cpl. Morrissette’s story inspires all of us to remember that our duty to honor our nation’s heroes is never finished. 

Veterans Day is a deeply meaningful day for our nation. It was over 100 years ago, at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, during the 11th month of the year that the roars of battle in World War I fell silent. 

Since then, Nebraskans and all Americans have come together every year to renew our appreciation for our nation’s heroes. We pledge that, no matter how much time has passed, we will never forget their valor, service, and selflessness.

Not only do we honor our troops with our words, we salute them with our actions. Nebraskans have always taken this to heart.

It’s why you read stories like that of Chuck Ogle from Kearney. He was a pilot in the 498th U.S. Army Medical Corps air ambulance company during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. He constantly carries with him a list of his 14 fellow service members who were killed in action.

It’s why you see stories of “hero flights” for Nebraska veterans to visit Washington, D.C. Last October, a plane carried 80 Korean War veterans from Hall County to our nation’s capital to visit the monuments dedicated to their service. This marked the tenth flight for the county’s veterans to Washington and now every living veteran in Hall County has been given the opportunity to make the trip. 

And it’s why over the last few years, business leaders and members of the Omaha community rallied around the goal of building a new ambulatory clinic at the Omaha VA Hospital.

In response to delays to update the aging Omaha VA facility, I introduced the Senate bill and President Obama signed into law the CHIP IN for Vets Act in 2016. The bill allows local communities to take the lead on new projects by permitting the VA to accept private contributions to ensure VA projects are finished both on time and on budget.

Omaha community and business leaders came up with this idea in the first place, and they have delivered. Construction began on a new ambulatory center on the Omaha VA campus in May 2018. After an original cost estimate of $120 million, the Government Accountability Office released a preliminary report that found the implementation of the CHIP IN for Vets Act would reduce the total estimated cost to $86 million. The report projected that the new facility is now $34 million under budget and four and a half months ahead of schedule. 

In the same report, a VA official stated that because of the agency’s current major construction backlog, the CHIP-IN approach allowed work on the Omaha project to begin at least five years sooner than it would have under its normal process. Now, Nebraska’s veterans may get the quality care they need and deserve earlier than expected.

Scripture encourages us to pay our dues wherever they may be. If someone is due respect, show them respect. If honor is due, honor them. The amount of honor and respect our state and nation owe our veterans is something we can never fully repay. Our country could not live on without their service and sacrifice.

I want to sincerely thank our veterans for their service when our country needed it the most. I can promise you Nebraska will never forget your incredible courage and patriotism. We will continue to strive to be worthy of the freedom that burns brighter today because of your service. 

Thank you to our veterans. May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.