During his recent visit to Washington, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with seven American World War II veterans to present them with his nation's highest tribute, the Legion of Honor medal. Among those receiving the medal was Charles Shay, who is a resident of Old Town and a member of the Penobscot Nation.
|Senator Susan Collins represents the State of Maine in the United States Senate.|
Charles Shay served our nation in both World War II and Korea. In 1944, his 1st Infantry was among the first wave to land on Omaha Beach at Normandy. Despite the horrendous enemy fire all around, he pulled several of his wounded comrades from the water and saved their lives.
I had the privilege of meeting Charles Shay during this inspiring event. Although many eloquent words were spoken that day, including those by President Sarkozy, none were more powerful than these by this great hero from our great state: "All I did was the job I was trained to do, like thousands of others."
Charles Shay's story is extraordinary, yet his courage, compassion, and modesty are a theme that runs throughout our nation's history. For more than two centuries, young Americans have left the comfort and security of home in order to preserve our freedom and to extend the blessings of freedom to others. When we honor individuals like Charles Shay, we honor all the men and women who have served America in the past and those who serve today.
It is fitting that President Sarkozy's visit occurred just before Veterans Day. This solemn anniversary is a day set aside not to celebrate victory in a great battle, but to honor the sacrifice that brought peace. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was not marked by the roar of cannon. Rather, it was the moment the guns were silenced by courage, devotion to duty, and a commitment to freedom.
|Senator Collins is pictured with Charles Shay, of Old Town, a World War II and Korean War veteran who recently received the French Legion of Honor.|
The virtues that brought about that silence echo through the ages. It is appropriate that Veterans Day now honors all who have defended our nation. Whether they serve in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, or the Merchant Marine, whether they serve in the regular forces, the National Guard or the Reserves, they sacrificed much to serve our country.
The men and women we honor on Veterans Day have paid the price of our freedom in times of conflict, and they are our shield in times of peace. We honor those who paid the ultimate price. We honor those who lived beyond their years of military service but who have since passed on. And we honor those who are with us today. We owe them all a great debt.
We repay that debt in part with the gratitude we express on Veterans Day, but only in part. Today, nearly 24 million Americans proudly wear the title of veteran. There are more than 136,000 veterans right here in our great state of Maine. In addition to our gratitude, we must also repay our debt with health care, rehabilitation services, educational and employment opportunities that our veterans have earned by their sacrifice to our country.
We repay our debt not only as a society, but also as individuals. We are fortunate to live in a state in which so many have served our nation with honor, and in which so many join together to honor those who serve. From the Troop Greeters at Bangor International Airport to the many citizens who volunteer countless hours to helping and supporting our vets, the people of Maine have always expressed our gratitude with generosity and a spirit of caring.
As we honor those who serve, we should also remember the parents, the wives and husbands, the children and other loved ones of our veterans and our troops. The families left behind must face the challenges of daily living as they endure the separation and the relentless worry. Their sacrifices are great, and we must thank them as well.
The Americans we honor on Veterans Day fought for the security of our nation, and for benefit of mankind. Those who serve today - the veterans of tomorrow - carry on this great mission. They, like Charles Shay and all who came before, have earned our deepest thanks, not just on Veterans Day, but for all the days to come.