After World War II, the day of remembrance was expanded to include all those who had served our country. In that war, West Virginia reported the fifth-highest percentage of servicemen.
As in all wars this country has fought, when the most dangerous of all duties calls for patriots to serve, West Virginia is among the most swift and loud to answer.
Over 36,000 West Virginians served during Vietnam Era, and the U.S. Department of Defense notes that our state suffered the highest casualty rate in the nation.
But as legislators, what we try to always remember is while it is extremely important to mourn and honor those who have lost their lives – especially during this Veterans Day weekend – we must also attempt in every way possible to repay the enormous debt we owe to those who fought and returned to us.
As Author Jose Narosky said, "In war, there are no unwounded soldiers."
It is a constant challenge, meeting the needs of our returning soldiers. We must continue to provide whatever services - medical facilities, tax breaks, educational opportunities - that might add value to the lives that were endangered for our freedom and safety.
It is a great pleasure to be able to provide veterans' bonuses, as we have for the veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Era and for veterans of conflicts in Lebanon, Panama, Granada, Afghanistan, Kosovo - and of course the current conflicts in the Middle East.
But we realize we haven't done enough.
That is why the Legislature voted this year to elevate the West Virginia Division of Veterans Affairs to a cabinet-level agency, answering directly to the Governor.
The agency charged with assisting our state's veterans is serving an extremely important governmental function, one that must not be taken lightly, but treated with the utmost respect and given ample authority.
The responsibilities of the West Virginia Division of Veterans' Affairs have increased in recent years. Aside from the traditional aid and counsel to veterans, there are new outreach programs, a new nursing facility and ongoing research on the changing needs of our veterans.
I have long considered the agency to be more than just a division of Military Affairs and Public Safety - a Department of Veterans' Assistance within the executive branch of government is long overdue. That is why last year I publicly advocated the passage of this legislation.
We must spend every effort to give back to the men and women who gave so much.
And on Veterans Day, we take the time to stop and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice our soldiers have made on all our behalf, for the safety and freedom of our nation. They gave selflessly, fought valiantly, and died honorably.
Each and every day, we will work to honor them by striving to pay the proper respect and gratitude to their comrades who live on, sometimes with great difficulty given their extraordinary and painful experiences.
In the words of John F. Kennedy: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."