Looking ahead with hopes and dreams for a new year also means some reflection on what we’ve just accomplished. You won’t be surprised that many of the accomplishments that stand out for me are due to the selfless service and great sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, past and present.
Without question, chief among the highlights of 2011 was the demise of Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden thanks to the courageous work of Navy SEAL Team Six and the patient efforts over many years of the men and women in the intelligence community. We will never be able to thank all who were responsible for ending the reign of terror of bin Laden, but we can celebrate their success and offer our appreciation for the work they do every day to keep America safe.
Closer to home this year, we honored Kansas’ favorite son, Sen. Robert J. Dole, who received a tribute fitting of his service to our nation with a plaque at the National World War II Memorial. Simply put, the memorial would not exist were it not for Dole and his dedication to remembering the Greatest Generation. As I told the crowd gathered for the dedication on the mall, Americans across this country would like to see those of us in Washington, D.C., work together in the Dole model and get the job done. Bob Dole is living proof that it can be done.
Sometimes appropriate recognition takes longer than it should. Case in point: Father Emil Kapaun of Pilsen. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and I passed legislation, now law, to speed up the timeline to award the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military decoration, to Kapaun, who inspired many with his unshakable faith and relentless courage.
Amid the devastating Battle of Unsan in November 1950 — in present-day North Korea — Kapaun stayed on the battlefield, dragging wounded soldiers to safety and attending to their injuries. He was taken prisoner along with other American soldiers. Facing subzero temperatures and starvation, Father Kapaun served his fellow captives by escaping to steal food from nearby farms and then returning to the POW camp to give his bounty to starving prisoners. His countless acts of generosity continued until his own death from injury in May 1951.
This recognition, and that of the Montford Point Marines, reminds me that it is never too late to honor those who have given so much to our country. Timely with the Marine Corps’ birthday and Veterans Day, the Senate passed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines, the first African-Americans to join the Corps during World War II. Unfortunately, these warriors were segregated and trained at Montford Point, N.C. But their dedication and sacrifices to the United States, especially in the Pacific theater, and our allies were no less significant. I was honored to personally gather 23 co-sponsors for the bill and proud of its unanimous passage in both the House and Senate.
Despite all the economic worry and concerns for our future, these great examples remind us how fortunate we are as Americans. To all of our military personnel and veterans, I want to say: Thank you for your service to our country and for the sacrifices you and your families have made to keep us free and safe from harm.