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COMMENTARY: Honoring Our Veterans

November 11 is Veterans Day. Each year, Americans take this day to honor the men and women who have served in defense of our liberties in the United States Armed Forces.

It began as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. Now veterans of all conflicts in which our country has been engaged are recognized on November 11. Although World War I was not, as was said at the time, “the war to end all wars,” the United States is still blessed with individuals who will step forward when our country calls.

Veterans Day is an appropriate occasion to reflect on what our country called these men and women to do. It is also essential that the day be used to consider the tremendous debt we owe them.

This must be true even during the coronavirus pandemic. This year, our tributes to the veterans who fought for us may look different than those of past years. Especially for those veterans who are elderly or have underlying health conditions, sometimes acquired from their time in the service, precautions should be taken when celebrating them. Nevertheless, Americans who served their country deserve our tributes in this difficult time.

President Calvin Coolidge said, “A country which is worth defending takes care of its defenders.” My office carries out this charge by offering assistance to veterans requiring specific services from the Federal Government.

When vets encounter difficulties accessing their benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), caseworkers in my office can help and try to cut through the red tape and intercede.

In addition to VA casework, I support legislation in Congress to improve the VA’s health care services. Improving the VA’s offerings has been an area of bipartisan focus and accomplishment.

Another constituent service my office can provide is the replacement of service medals. They represent the commitment and sacrifice a veteran made for his or her country, but they are not immune to being lost or misplaced. For example, I recently presented a new set of medals to the family of the late World War II veteran Luther Owens. The originals, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, had been lost in a house fire.

On some occasions, veterans receive their medals long after they served. They may have been awarded but never delivered, or misplaced paperwork may have halted the process for awarding the medals.

Early in my tenure as a Member of Congress, I was honored to participate in a medal presentation to Corporal James C. Rasnake of Abingdon, who served during the Korean War. On September 15, 1950, his platoon came under heavy fire, and Sergeant Dale Larsen was seriously wounded. Corporal Rasnake killed an enemy gunman about to shoot Sergeant Larsen again, then carried Sergeant Larsen on his back to a safer location. He eventually crafted a makeshift stretcher using two rifles and carried Sergeant Larsen about a mile to receive aid.

Over sixty years after this feat of bravery, my office helped track down missing paperwork to complete the process of recognizing Corporal Rasnake. He received the Bronze Star with a “V” device for valor. When it was finally time to present the award, Sergeant Larsen, the man whose life he saved, handed it to him.

My plans for Veterans Day this year will take me to Martinsville to honor two World War II veterans, Houston William Smith and Richard Stine.

I urge you on Veterans Day to thank any veterans in your life, whether family members, friends, or neighbors. In this time of COVID-19, if you cannot do this is person, give them a call or contact them via email or social media. These simple gestures are the least we can do to honor the heroes who risked their lives for our freedom.

– Congressman Morgan Griffith

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