Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: Memorial Day

May 29, 2017
Fort Report

On Memorial Day, we honor those who gave their last full measure in service to our country. We stop the busyness and pause: to observe, to reflect, to remember. The formal remembrance of our nation’s war dead is more than a nostalgic tradition. That a person would lay down his life for his friends—for another—demands that we turn our thoughts to the noblest of human ideals; and when we gather to say thank you, we affirm our common bonds as a people.

Before an international gathering of public officials, someone once posed a question: Where would you like to live? Where people lie, steal, and kill? Or where people are good, trustworthy, and free?

When we consider the full arc of human history, it is often marked by fighting and dying in war. Each generation must face the harsh prospect that twisted ideology, egomaniacal ambition, or the hunt for glory will compel small minds to kill, rape, and pillage. Try as we might to create the conditions for goodwill and mutual support, sometimes regular Americans must volunteer to bravely protect the ideals we hold dear.

Memorial Day is one precious moment when we unite in deep gratitude for those who died in service to those ideals. All across Nebraska, communities, churches, and civic organizations will gather to memorialize the fallen heroes of battle who gave us the chance to remain good, trustworthy, and free.   

Beyond this special day, perhaps the greatest memorial we can offer is to reignite a love of country, of responsibility, decency and commitment, and the fragile gift of liberty. I had a unique privilege recently of standing at the Iwo Jima Memorial to greet our Vietnam War Veterans as they came for their special honor flight day. So many wonderful Nebraskans stepped up to volunteer and give. But perhaps what meant the most to me was when I learned of the thousands of people gathered at the Lincoln airport upon their return. In the terminal, they chanted, “USA! USA! USA!”

One of my assignments in Congress is service on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. A rewarding part of this work is overseeing the American Battlefield Monuments Commission, which has responsibility for special military cemeteries, including extraordinary places like Arlington, Omaha Beach, and Anzio. The Commission was born out of the proper desire to create places of quiet dignity to honor our dead and their battle stories. Now, using advanced research and technology, the life of each person is being meticulously archived and retold, adding a whole new chapter to our vow to remember.

Closer to home, through a transformative public-private partnership, we are starting a new way of providing veterans the help they deserve. In Omaha, a new ambulatory care center will bring new infrastructure, innovation, and enhanced technology to healthcare in order to blow past government delay and cost overruns. A new clinic site will be selected soon in Lincoln with the potential to deliver advanced services while also preserving and redeveloping the beautiful historical structures.

We are also evaluating a new therapeutic program called Project Hero, which integrates recreational activity into veterans’ healthcare. Bringing veterans with brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder as well as physical injuries together to share a journey of accomplishment through group biking activities, the program restores esprit-de-corps among veterans fighting off the health-destroying isolation so common in our day. Early results are strikingly good.

Ever since 1868, when General John A. Logan led the charge to declare Memorial Day an official holiday, you have read similar words to my own. In this time of division, of enormous shifts and change, it is good to remind ourselves of that which ought to be permanent.