Memorial Day began following the Civil War. Recognizing President Lincoln’s call to never forget what our brave soldiers did to ensure that our government of the people, by the people, and for the people, would not perish from the Earth, veterans groups from across the United States established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
Every year, we set aside this day to join together as Americans and pay our tribute. Reflecting on this day and its meaning, I can’t help but feel moved by the sacrifices made to defend us. We should all be proud to be citizens of such a brave and generous nation.
A tradition of honoring those who died in war is directly tied to our state’s most famous team.
In 1922, faculty, students, alumni and friends of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln began a drive for $430,000 to build a new football stadium. They named it Memorial Stadium to honor all Nebraskans who served in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars and the 751 Nebraskans who died in World War I.
Later, the stadium also honored the 3,839 Nebraskans who died in World War II, 225 in Korea, and 422 in Vietnam. I have no doubt that we will continue this tradition of honoring Nebraska’s heroes for generations to come.
But that’s not the only place in Nebraska where honoring the fallen continues full time.
In Sarpy County, a different kind of task of remembering is being undertaken. On December 7, 1941, several torpedoes struck the USS Oklahoma as it was moored on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor. The battleship soon rolled and sank in its berth. Most of the 429 sailors on board were drowned or suffocated.
Merely 36 servicemen were recovered and identified shortly after the attack. The rest remained entombed in the Oklahoma as it rested below the harbor’s surface. The dead were only removed from the ship and buried a year and a half after the attack.
Buried in several caskets, the graves were marked “Unknown, Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.” The bones rested in two Hawaiian cemeteries for decades.
At Offutt Air Force Base, American military personnel are doing the difficult work of identifying the remains from the Oklahoma. When the first of the unmarked caskets was exhumed in 2003, it contained the remains of 95 individuals who died serving their country. Many more have arrived in Nebraska since.
Each set of remains are placed so that the men would be facing an American flag that stands at one end of the room. The duty of helping these fallen Americans receive proper identification and burial will continue for years. We honor those heroes.
The memory of the sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers who gave their lives while serving our country will forever live in our hearts. They are a lasting model of the ultimate form of patriotism. We also pay tribute to the families who have lost loves ones so we can live freely in the greatest nation on Earth.
I join all Nebraskans in recognizing our enduring commitment to ensuring the service of our fallen heroes is honored, appreciated and never forgotten.
God bless you all, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.