Congressman Collin Peterson -- Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District
Press Release
May 29, 2006
Allison Myhre/218-731-1657

Memorial Day Ceremony, Litchfield, MN
May 29, 2006
By Congressman Collin Peterson

On Memorial Day, 2006, Congressman Collin Peterson spoke at the Litchfield, MN Memorial Day program. Following are his remarks from that day:

Today, communities throughout our nation are having ceremonies similar to this one. People are celebrating Memorial Day with parades and speeches, families will get together for picnics, and others will take time to visit cemeteries and put flags on grave sites. We will celebrate the lives we are able to lead because we live in this great country and we will honor the service and sacrifice of those who answered the call to duty and stepped forward to defend the nation. Today we should all stop for a moment and truly think about what we often take for granted - our freedoms, our liberties and those who defend us, past and present.

As I look out into the audience today I see veterans who served in World War II, in Korea, in Vietnam, the first Gulf War and in other combat assignments that are occasionally called "peace keeping" missions. You were the men and women who stepped forward and served this nation and we all owe you a debt of gratitude we can never truly repay. On behalf of all of us who are gathered here today, I thank you.

In addition to those who are here with us today there are others we should recognize and thank. As I speak, 2,600 Minnesota National Guard soldiers are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is the largest overseas deployment of Minnesota National Guard since World War II. The Minnesota National Guard alone has had more than half of its 13,000 soldiers and airmen called to duty since 9/11. Ten communities in Minnesota's 7th Congressional District have units deployed, including Alexandria, Bemidji, Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Hutchinson, Long Prairie, Moorhead, Sauk Center, and Thief River Falls. 

Some soldiers have already done their duty and returned home. For the ones still on active duty I wish these soldiers well, and a safe return home. Approximately 28 soldiers from Litchfield from Alpha Company of the 682nd Engineer Battalion spent one year on active duty in Iraq and returned home last year. I would like to say thank you for your service. We are glad to have you home.

I also want to take a moment to remember the three Minnesota National Guard soldiers who died last year in Iraq. Memorial Day is about remembering, and our thoughts and prayers should continue to go out to the families of Staff Sergeant David Day, Sgt. Jesse Lhotka and First Lieutenant Jason Timmerman. They were killed by improvised explosive devices while evacuating an injured soldier from a convoy accident. We also mourn the loss of Major Stuart M. Anderson, whose parents live in Hoffman, Minnesota. And we mourn the loss of Corporal Demetrius Rice, whose mother is from Appleton, Minnesota. We should not forget any of these brave men who served and sacrificed on our behalf. The debt we owe them and their families is immeasurable.

Today, I would also like to ask all of you to remember those men and women who were wounded and came back home forever changed because of their experiences. For every soldier who dies in battle a dozen more return home carrying physical and mental scars. Some have great difficulty overcoming their wounds and we must make certain that they receive the help they need. Not one veteran should ever be homeless in this country. Not one veteran should go hungry. Not one veteran should languish without health care. Yet all of these conditions exist in America today and I think we should all be ashamed for allowing it to be so.

Our service men and women need support when they come home, not just in the short term with parades and celebrations but in the long term with access to health care and the other services that they might need in order to return smoothly to their civilian lives. 

We can honor those that didn't come home by properly honoring those who did by making health care accessible and affordable for all our veterans. The VA Health Care System should be properly funded and we should improve the health and education benefits package provided for members of the National Guard and the Reserves. As a nation we ought to commit ourselves to providing top-shelf, top-quality medical care and social services for our veterans.

In December, I traveled to Europe and the Middle East and had an opportunity to play with my band for the troops to show them how much we support them. We performed six concerts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany. I also visited with injured soldiers both oversees and in the United States at Walter Reed Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital. When I spoke with them, I got a real sense of their courage and commitment to our country and to the uniform they wear. But what most inspired me was that despite their injuries they wanted to go back and help out their buddies and continue the mission. They felt they were making a difference, and they are. 

Throughout the history of our nation, brave men and women have answered the call to defend and protect our democracy. I am inspired by the courage, professionalism and patriotism of our men and women in uniform.

As we celebrate this Memorial Day, there is much controversy surrounding the ongoing war in Iraq. In a democracy, the actions of government are a proper subject for citizens to debate. There are many views on how we should proceed in Iraq and it is appropriate and understandable there may be disagreement both over the wisdom of past actions and on the best course for the future. However, we never lose sight of the fact that the men and women who have answered their country's call and who are risking -- and in some cases losing -- their lives on our behalf and doing an outstanding job and must be supported. We should tell them and show them that we appreciate their service. 

Today, on Memorial Day, when America honors all those who have died in the service of their country, it is important to remember that it's about more than picnics and parades. It's about the men and women, past and present, who are serving our Nation in uniform, both at home and in foreign lands. Some of them may be your friends, neighbors, and colleagues. In any case, I hope you'll join me today, and every day, in saying "thank you" to all of them. Thank you.