This Veterans Day across the nation, for the first time since the holiday was conceived in November 1919, there will be no large ceremonies in big cities and small towns in observance to properly express our gratitude and appreciate of our country's brave men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.
Instead, 2020 will long be remembered as a year of tremendous change and challenge for our nation. Yet, this year also notably marks 75 years since the end of another historic global event that united our country: the end of World War II and the subsequent creation of the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs in 1945.
One of the most poignant aspects of our Oregon veteran community is that it is as diverse and united as the nation we serve.
Whether you are one of the 300,000 Oregon veterans who served in the trenches of Europe, the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Asia, the deserts of the Middle East or anywhere in between; on (or beneath) the world's oceans, or in the skies above; here at home or overseas, in wartime or in peace; you are part of an unbroken chain of patriots who have served this country with honor through the history of our nation.
Every day, even after their military service, our veterans ensure America remains strong. Every day, they employ their hard-earned leadership skills and continue to serve their communities.
Our veterans are moms and dads, teachers and doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs, social workers and community leaders. They are the heroes of a peaceful nation who answered the call and returned to live in the land they defended.
Heroes like World War II paratrooper Bill Wingett — though he never embraced that distinction.
Private First Class Wingett was one of the original members of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division's 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a unit made famous by the book and HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers."
On June 6, 1944, he was one of 17,000 paratroopers to perform a night jump behind enemy lines five hours before the historic beachhead assault began. Along with other paratroopers from the 101st, he fought his way through to Normandy. He also served with honor in the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Bastogne and other pivotal conflicts until the war ended.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery during the Battle of Brecourt Manor and earned three Purple Hearts in separate engagements.
Sadly, Bill passed away just a few weeks ago at his home in Lebanon. He was 98.
The veterans of the Greatest Generation, serving nearly eight decades ago, are vanishing at a startling rate, as are the veterans of the Korean War generation. Just five years ago, there were more than 17,000 WWII veterans living in the state of Oregon. Today, there are fewer than 6,000. Their contribution and example must never fade from our awareness. The nation and the world they fought to protect will endure because of their service and deep sacrifices.
Today, we also remember our fellow Americans missing in action, whose fate is still undetermined. We will not rest until we have made the fullest possible accounting for every life that was given in pursuit of our freedoms and preserving democracy.
We also pause to remember the men and women who did not live to be called "veterans." Many of them rest in the hearts of our national cemeteries.
We also honor the families of the lost, who carry a burden of grief that time may lighten, but never lift, as well as all veterans' family members. Their loved ones placed duty and country before their own lives.
America is known as the land of the free and the home of the brave, but this was never a given. This reputation was earned by the blood and sweat of patriots who, generation after generation, dedicate themselves to keeping our nation safe, strong and free.
What veterans have given our country is beyond our power to fully repay, yet, today we pause as a nation to recognize our debt.
This Veterans Day, although we must adjust how we celebrate, I encourage you to join me, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and other veterans and civic leaders as we mark this important observation with our first-ever virtual Statewide Veterans Day celebration.
The event will be streamed on the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs' Facebook page beginning at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 11. I hope you are able to join us as we honor and celebrate all of our nation's veterans.
Finally, on behalf of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs and a grateful state and nation, on this day and every day, we thank you for your service.
Kelly Fitzpatrick is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs and Governor Kate Brown's policy advisor on veterans' issues. She is a retired Army officer. Her military awards and decorations include multiple awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal and the Army Parachutist Badge.
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