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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

Honoring the Bravest Among Us

November 8, 2019
Weekly Columns

Each year on the eleventh of November, we rightly pause to honor and remember the bravery and boldness of the men and women who selflessly answered the call of duty and wore one of the many great military uniforms of the United States of America. Without question, we owe a constant debt of gratitude to generations of veterans, including many of our own family members, who made sacrifices to ensure the safety of our homeland and who faithfully fought to promote and preserve America’s precious freedoms. 

On Veterans Day, I am certainly reflecting on the military service rendered by my own relatives. Each day, I am reminded of my namesake and late uncle Tom’s tremendous courage and sacrifice. A prisoner of war during World War II, he was forced to walk the infamous Bataan Death March, and he was held in the Japanese prison camps of Cabanatuan in the Philippines and Hanawa on the main island of Japan. He kept a booklet with the names of the brave men that he met in the prison camps because he never wanted to forget those with whom he served. I was honored to be given his little book after he passed away, and I keep it in my DC office alongside several photos of him, including a picture that was taken of him and his brothers in arms on the day Hanawa was liberated. 

I am also always thinking of my father, who I greatly admired while I was growing up in a military family. My dad joined the Army Air Corps on the eve of World War II, and when he left the service, he was the second most senior master sergeant in the Air Force and generally recognized as one of the best to run a crew (or dock) that fixed airplanes. He was an amazingly talented mechanic and won the prize for “dock of the month” so many times at McGuire Air Force Base that they quit giving it out. When he was placed at Dover Air Force Base for his last command, he was given the worst dock assignment and still managed to win the same award seven out of 12 times there—another testament to his impressive skill. Following his retirement in 1960, our family returned to Oklahoma, where my dad served another 20 years as a civilian defense worker at Tinker Air Force Base.

My uncle and my dad were not the only people in my family who served. My grandfather on my mom’s side retired as a naval captain and fought in several engagements in the Pacific. My brother served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. And my favorite cousin retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel after serving in Iraq.

Of course, in a sense, the families of all these brave men served, too. They supported them when they deployed. Spouses missed anniversaries, children missed birthdays and all were sometimes separated and worried over Thanksgivings and Christmases. But they never wavered in supporting their family member in uniform. Millions of other families are making those same sacrifices today, so each of us can enjoy the upcoming holidays in peace, security and freedom.

Just as stories of military service and heroism are numerous within our families, so too is the current population of veterans in communities across the nation. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 21.3 million civilian veterans living in the United States, including more than 67,000 in the Fourth District of Oklahoma. As a grateful nation, we have a solemn duty to these veteran heroes, including many who sustained life-altering injuries fighting for the cause of freedom.

It is indeed right to set aside one day each year to recognize America’s veterans, but we can rightly honor their sacrifices every day of the year by ensuring they receive their earned benefits. Unfortunately, there are still too many instances of our veterans not getting adequate care or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system not meeting their needs. While I was encouraged that Congress came together last year to address some of the issues, efforts must continue to keep the VA accountable and ensure promises made to our veterans are always kept. And I remain committed to finding solutions to improve the care and benefits received by our veterans.

If you are a veteran and have experienced problems related to your earned benefits, please contact my Norman office at (405) 329-6500, so my staff can help you get answers.