As Americans celebrate Memorial Day, Rep. Dave Griffith reminds his neighbors of the solemnity of the holiday.
It's intended to honor men and women who died while serving the United States, he said.
"Memorial Day is not for veterans who are living," said Griffith, a Jefferson City Republican serving in the Missouri House. "Memorial Day is for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and died for their country."
As the monument committee chairman, Griffith said the Mid-Missouri Gold Star Families Monument will act as another reminder of sacrifices service men and women have given when it is done.
The 7-foot-tall, 12-foot-long monument is to be placed at the entrance of the new Bicentennial Bridge, adjacent to the Missouri Veterans Memorial on the north side of the Capitol — probably sometime in mid-July.
A dedication ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 7.
A Gold Star Family has a family member who served in the military and died in the line of duty. The honor dates back to World War I, when families of servicemembers displayed flags featuring a blue star for every member of the immediate family who was serving in the war. If one of the family members died, the star's color would be changed to gold.
Griffith who is a veteran, chairs the House Committee on Veterans. He said lawmakers did a lot of good for active servicemembers and veterans during the latest session of the General Assembly.
"I think that as far as veterans go, we did a good job of getting legislation passed," he said. "We have a really good atmosphere on the floor as far as veterans. When I testify, it's always received well."
Much of the legislation they passed is included in Missouri Senate omnibus bill.
Senate Bill 120 includes a number of changes for the state.
It creates a Department of the National Guard, headed by the state's Adjutant General, who becomes another cabinet member.
Chain of command is a very important rule for military organizations, Griffith said. Under current Missouri law, the Missouri National Guard is part of the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
Having the Guard under Public Safety adds more complexity to the "chain of command," which is very important to military personnel.
"Especially in a disaster or emergency, having the Adjutant General be able to report directly to the governor, and the governor being able to go directly to him, cuts down on what they have to deal with," Griffith said.
The law is similar to one proposed two years ago, but Gov. Mike Parson had objections to portions. Bill authors "tweaked" the law to meet Parson's concerns.
Another portion of SB 120 looked at use of state vehicles. For purposes of convenience and fuel savings, the act provides that Guard members be considered state employees. That way, they could use state-owned vehicles for official state business.
Griffith said he pre-filed the bill in December 2020 and included an emergency clause, hoping it would get out of the chambers quickly, especially while Guard members were conducting mass-vaccination clinics. Early this month, Parson announced the Guard would scale back and only continue doing targeted vaccinations in Missouri's largest cities.
"I think that operation is shutting down soon," Griffith said.
Other steps the omnibus creates include designating November as Military Family Month, providing the option to include "veteran" on the front of driver licenses, modifying the definition of "surviving spouse" in provisions of law relating to the merit system, and establishing hiring preferences for current or former members of the Guard in state employment.
The preference doesn't put veterans on any higher status than non-veterans, Griffith said. But, if there is a close choice between one and the other for a state job, the Guard veteran gets a second look.
The bill also creates a Purple Star Campus, Griffith said.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shall designate school districts as Purple Star Campuses if they apply and qualify for the designation.
Requirements include having a designated staff member as a military liaison; identification of military-connected students enrolled in the district; determination of appropriate services available to military-connected students; coordination of programs relevant to military-connected students; maintenance on the school district website of resources for military-connected students; establishment of a transition program for students; training of military issues for staff members; and either a resolution showing support for military-connected students, recognition of military holidays, or a partnership with a local military installation that includes opportunities for military members to volunteer with the school.
Military-connected students are those enrolled in a school district or charter school and is a dependent of a member of the U.S. military service.
A number of Missouri school districts clearly qualify for the Purple Star Campus designation, Griffith said. Waynesville R-6 School District, Knob Noster Public Schools and others, he continued.
Jefferson City may also qualify, he said, because of the volume of Guard members who work at the Missouri National Guard-Ike Skelton Training Site.
"What that does is really help the military in the move from one duty station to another," Griffith said. "Especially if they've got kids. When they're moving into a school district, if they are going to live on base, that's taken care of."
Other states have created models that work, Griffith added.
The legislation awaits Parson's signature.