The Ripon Forum

Volume 55, No. 5

Veterans Day 2021

“You kept us safe. You did your duty.”

By on November 8, 2021

by DAN SULLIVAN

This upcoming Veterans Day, like I have done nearly every year since I’ve been in office, I will go home to Alaska, a state with more veterans per capita than any other. I’ll likely go to Wasilla, a town in a valley about 45 minutes from my house in Anchorage. Like so many towns in Alaska, there’s a Wall of Honor there, a tribute to our fallen heroes, where we will gather. It’s also not far from a mountain, the recently-named Gold Star Peak—named for the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.  

Retired Army Sergeant Kirk Alkire spent years working with state and federal agencies to officially name the mountain “Gold Star Peak.” Serving with the Alaska-based 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, Kirk’s brigade lost 53 paratroopers during a 15-month deployment to Iraq. To this day, he carries around dog tags with each of their names.  

Kirk will probably be there, as will hundreds of Alaska veterans, those still serving, and family members who have lost someone. We will all gather to pay tribute to them because we know about the sacrifices that so many have made for our freedoms. We know that the families of those in uniform are also serving.   

We will all gather to pay tribute to them because we know about the sacrifices that so many have made for our freedoms.

One of the most satisfying and moving things that I have seen while serving as Alaska’s U.S. senator is how much Alaska’s communities all over the state support our military and our veterans. It is a special and unique aspect of who we are as Alaskans, as if embedded in our DNA. And this is not just a recent phenomenon. In 1942, during World War II, Alaskans oversubscribed their war-bond quota by nearly 300 percent, surpassing every state in the Union. 

Today, this patriotism and support of our military is on full display in our larger communities and the villages that dot my state. In Hoonah, Alaska, it’s documented in the film “Hunting and Wartime,” almost every single male high school senior in the village went to fight and serve in Vietnam. Indeed, the Alaska Native people serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the country, even though the county has historically denied them equal rights. I call it a special kind of patriotism.  

Members of the Harley-driving Roaring Thunder, a group committed to helping American veterans, will be at the service in Wasilla. Many of the members of the Roaring Thunder are Vietnam veterans, and many of them were treated with contempt by their fellow Americans at the time.  

However, instead of being wracked and incapacitated by bitterness and anger over the way they were treated when they came home, our Vietnam veterans set out to make sure that future veterans of America’s wars and their fallen comrades would receive better treatment than they did.  

Members of the United States military have done more to liberate humankind from oppression and tyranny…than any other force in human history.

The crowd will also include those who served in Afghanistan, some of whom—as well as their families—will no doubt still be feeling despair over the bungled withdrawal.  

To them, I’ll repeat what I’ve been saying to so many who I have talked to since August: You kept us safe. You did your duty. I will tell the family members who have lost loved ones that their sacrifice was not in vain. Each life that is lost is a vital piece of the mosaic that is our military—one of the most positive forces in human history.  

I will tell the crowd that, throughout history and into the present, members of the United States military have done more to liberate humankind from oppression and tyranny—literally hundreds of millions of people—than any other force in human history.  

When the Pledge of Allegiance has been recited, and the speeches are over, the Roaring Thunder will fire up their Harley Davidsons and rev their engines. The roar will spread throughout the valley. It will sound like freedom. It will sound like Veterans Day.  

Semper Fi.

Dan Sullivan represents the state of Alaska in the U.S. Senate. He has served in the United States Marine Corps since 1993 and is currently a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

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