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Honoring the legacy of tribal veterans

There are few South Dakotans who do not have a friend of family member who is a veteran of our Armed Forces. This is especially true in tribal communities, where there is a long tradition of exemplary military service. This Veterans Day, South Dakotans will show their gratitude for those loved ones who served and remember especially those who gave their lives in defense of our freedom.

The contributions of South Dakota’s Native American soldiers in our Armed Forces are significant and still serve as an inspiration to many today. Lakota code talkers like Clarence Wolf Guts of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe were critical to the success of many missions in World War II, an accomplishment that is a source of great pride to all of South Dakota.

Similarly, the Korean War heroics of Master Sergeant Woody Keeble, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe, are an example of the courageous service of Native American veterans that all South Dakotans can appreciate. Additionally, many across the state were moved by the story of Arthur “Bluie” Jewett, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member whose remains were recently returned from Korea after almost 60 years.

Recently, our veterans won a significant victory when the president signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act. I was honored to attend the signing ceremony for this bill at the White House. This new law requires Congress to allow advance funding for all Veterans Affairs medical programs, starting next year. In the past, veterans health care funding has frequently been held up by political games, creating uncertainty among veterans and their advocacy associations about whether programs will be fully funded. I appreciate the support this bill received from veterans groups in South Dakota such as the Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Aside from ensuring that our veterans have strong and timely support, I encourage readers to take advantage of the Veterans History Project, an oral history initiative by the Library of Congress to document the experiences of veterans’ service during our nation’s wars. You can begin the process of documenting the experience of a friend or family member who served by visiting my Web site, and clicking on the Veterans History Project button.

Veterans Day is an opportunity for all Americans to thank those who have given so much in service to our nation. It is also an opportunity for government leaders to recognize ways we can better serve those who have done so much to protect our liberty. I am honored to work with all of the veterans groups in South Dakota to address veterans’ health care and benefits needs, and I welcome the input from individual veterans as well. Working together, we can truly show our appreciation on Veterans Day, and every day as well.