FRANKFORT – This week, our nation will come together as it has for nearly a century to pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their time, talents and even their lives and limbs to preserve our freedom.
Altogether, there have been more than 40 million men and women who have been part of the U.S. Armed Forces since the Continental Army was first established 240 years ago this past June. Tens of millions more have served, or still are serving, as members of the National Guard and the Reserves, both of which trace their history back even further.
For much of our history, a time was not set aside annually to recognize all of their contributions. That began to change in the wake of World War I, however, when Armistice Day was adopted on the one-year anniversary of the war’s end to commemorate the actions of our veterans in that conflict. That is why the Veterans Day focal point remains the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year.
In 1954, Congress and President Eisenhower broadened its scope so that all veterans would be recognized. The president’s proclamation that year called on us to “solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom.” It later added that we should re-dedicate “ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
Over the last two-plus centuries, Kentuckians have been at the forefront when it comes to protecting our country and preserving its values. No other state saw more casualties during the War of 1812 than we did, for example; in fact, our loss was greater than the combined total of every other state.
The first American casualty of World War I was believed to be a Kentuckian – McLean County native Cpl. James Bethel Gresham – and we had that war’s next-to-last American survivor: Hopkinsville native Robley Rex, who died in 2009 just a few days shy of his 108th birthday.
Kentucky also was the native state of the first U.S. Armored Forces casualty of World War II. Private Robert H. Brooks, from Scott County, died during an attack in the Philippine Islands just hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. Incidentally, the leader of the U.S. Pacific Fleet that day was Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who was born in Henderson.
According to the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, the commonwealth is now home to 311,000 veterans. Nearly 40 percent fought in Vietnam, and less than 15 percent served in World War II or Korea. The remainder were there for us in Iraq and Afghanistan or in peacetime.
Over years, the state has tried to make sure our veterans have the services and recognition they need and deserve. That includes building three nursing homes just for them, and the fourth is nearing completion in Radcliff.
There are also four operating veterans cemeteries to complement the eight national ones across the state. Late last month, Gov. Beshear announced $6 million in federal funding that will help build a fifth state cemetery in Leslie County, bringing us closer to our goal of having a veterans cemetery within 75 miles of all veterans across Kentucky.
Other actions the state has taken since 2000 include awarding high school diplomas to older veterans who did not have a chance to complete their degree before heading off to fight and making it easier for veterans to qualify for state government and teaching jobs and to meet professional requirements where their military training is applicable. We also 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.
With that in mind, Kentucky State Parks recently announced that it is offering discounts to all current and former members of the Armed Services. This is in effect between the first of this month through the end of March next year, and it requires proof of military service.
Under the USA Military Discount, rooms at our 17 resort lodges start as low as $75 a night, and two- and three-bedroom cottages range from $90 to $105 nightly, excluding taxes. This discount may not be available during special events and holidays, and cannot be used with other discounts.
If at all possible, I encourage you to take part in our Veterans Day activities. If you are a veteran or are still serving, meanwhile, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for that you have done on our behalf. Veterans may make up a relatively small percentage of this country’s population, but the impact each of you has had on our lives is immeasurable. Our world would be a far darker place without your contribution, and it will never be forgotten.