Frankfort

On Monday, our nation will pause to pay tribute to our veterans, an unparalleled group of men and women who have defended our freedom and fought for countless others around the world for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.

Veterans Day is always a special time, but this year's is even more noteworthy, since the holiday arrives exactly a century after its predecessor -- Armistice Day -- was first declared by President Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the truce that effectively ended World War I in 1918.

The hope back then was that this tragic conflict would live up to its informal name, The War to End All Wars. That, of course, did not happen, and after the fighting of World War II and the Korean War, Congress and President Eisenhower expanded Armistice Day's scope and changed its name so that it honored all who had worn our nation's uniform.

More than 40 million people have served in our Armed Forces since our country's founding, and about half are still with us today. It's estimated that 295,000 of them call the commonwealth home.

Kentucky has a long history of stepping up on our country's behalf. We suffered more casualties during the War of 1812, for example, than every other states' combined. Today, we play integral roles in our nation's defense through Fort Knox, Fort Campbell, the National Guard, the Reserves and other military-related installations.

We've stood out individually, as well. A Kentuckian is believed to be one of the first few Americans to die during World War I, and another was that war's second-to-last American survivor, passing away a decade ago just a few days before his 108th birthday.

In World War II, it was a native Kentuckian who led the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, and another Kentuckian became the first U.S. Armored Forces casualty when the Philippine Islands were attacked just hours later.

The most iconic photo from World War II -- the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima -- features a Kentuckian among the six Marines pictured. A Kentuckian was also the first soldier to plant our flag on foreign soil. That moment is best remembered in the second half of the opening line of the Marines' Hymn: "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli."

More than 60 Kentuckians have been awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor, and just recently, a Trigg County native -- Lieutenant General Scott Howell -- served as commander of the Special Forces team that brought down a deadly Islamic State leader.

At the Capitol in Frankfort, state leaders have worked hard over the years to help our veterans however we can. Since the 1990s, we've established a department dedicated solely to getting them the benefits and services they deserve; we've built an array of veterans nursing homes and state-run cemeteries to complement our national cemeteries; we've set aside Veterans Day as a state holiday; we've made it easier for veterans to become teachers, work for state government and use their military training to qualify for private-sector jobs; and we've awarded high school diplomas to older veterans who enlisted before they could graduate.

If you are a veteran, I want to thank you for all that you've done for our country and the values we stand for. Your service can never be adequately repaid, but we must make sure that it is never forgotten.

My hope is that many will be able to participate in Veterans Day events planned in the days ahead. If you are unable to attend, I encourage you to take at least a few moments next Monday to remember what our veterans did for us and future generations.

To borrow a line from Winston Churchill, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few."

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