Every November, Veterans Day is an opportunity for the entire country to honor the brave Americans who have so selflessly put themselves in harm's way for the greater good of our nation and remember those who gave their lives for all of us. Missouri is home to more than 438,000 veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries across the globe. We can never fully repay these men and women for the sacrifices they have made, but it is incredibly important to show them our gratitude whenever possible.
While I am fortunate enough work in our nation's capital many weeks out of the year, some of our bravest and most selfless veterans have never had the opportunity to visit. Fortunately, the Honor Flight Network has done great work to change that. This nonprofit organization transports veterans to Washington, D.C., so they're able to visit the memorials that have been built to honor their service to our nation. Veterans are able to explore the memorials and pay tribute to a comrade, friend or brother whose name is carved into the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and did not make it home. They can experience the lifelike tribute to our fallen soldiers at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and they can find the column honoring Missouri veterans at the beautiful World War II Memorial. I'm looking forward to welcoming the 61st Central Missouri Honor Flight next week. It is extremely humbling to meet the Missourians who come to Washington, D.C., and I always feel fortunate to play a small part in thanking them for their service.
"Valentines for Veterans" is an annual initiative in my office where we ask constituents to create valentines for our veterans. These notes of thanks are important reminders to our service men and women that we are thinking of them. I was extremely thankful last year that people throughout our district sent more than 12,000 valentines to my office, brightening the day of these brave men and women who spent their lives serving our nation. These small gestures of gratitude go a long way with our veterans, and I am looking forward to another successful "Valentines for Veterans" event this year.
Missouri is also home to several "Purple Heart Counties." These are designated by the Military Order of the Purple Heart in acknowledgment of a county that places a great deal of importance on serving and honoring veterans who have been wounded in combat. This initiative provides an opportunity for these decorated heroes to come together to discuss legislative initiatives, serve other veterans and their families, and share a sense of community among peers with whom they can relate. Our state is also home to two "Purple Heart Trails" — two highways that are part of a national network of roadways and monuments designed to pay tribute to Purple Heart Veterans. The Purple Heart Trails are one more reminder to honor and thank those right here in Missouri who have received this sacred military decoration.
Veterans Day is a great occasion to thank a veteran for their service, but it is important to remember the spirit of Veterans Day all year long. There is never a bad time to let an American hero know we appreciate what they've sacrificed for our families and this country. Whether you stop to honor soldiers in the airport who are coming home from deployment, volunteer to make care packages for troops abroad, or simply shake a hand and thank a veteran, no gesture of gratitude is too small. These heroes have risked their lives for our freedom, and we are grateful each and every day.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., shares his perspective each week on national issues, including ones that affect Missouri. He represents the state's 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office can be reached at 573-635-7232.