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Missouri is home to more than 400,000 veterans who have served our nation honorably in every war from World War II and Vietnam to most recently fighting in the War on Terror in the Middle East. We live in the greatest country in the world, and that is all thanks to the incredible men and women who have answered the call to serve. Every Nov. 11th, we celebrate Veterans Day and thank America's servicemembers for all they have sacrificed to make this country great.

Our nation's military is currently over 2.2 million soldiers strong and there are around 19 million veterans living in the United States. That means tens of millions of families have had loved ones miss birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, weddings, births of babies — the list goes on — all in the name of service to our country. From the members of the Greatest Generation who served in places like Pearl Harbor, to the 18-year-olds who will ship out to the far corners of the world as soon as they graduate, the United States of America is the greatest example of freedom on planet earth because of these heroes.

The War on Terror has been especially top of mind as all American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan in August. Regardless of whether you agree with this action or not, the withdrawal gave us a moment to pause and reflect on how fortunate we are to have had American soldiers fighting for our freedom in Afghanistan for the last two decades. Sept. 11th, 2001, was one of the most devastating and consequential days in our nation's history, and more than 181,000 Americans enlisted for active duty in response. These servicemembers put our country over themselves, and we will never be able to sufficiently thank them and their families for this incredible sacrifice.

We lost 56 Missourians in combat in the war in Afghanistan. That means 56 families will never see their loved ones again because they answered the call to serve our nation. While no amount of condolences or recognition could ever suffice, it is important the names of these heroes be written in the history books. In September, I introduced a resolution to honor these fallen soldiers, ensure their legacy continues to live on, and let their families know we will never forget. I was also proud to be an original cosponsor of a bill that has since passed the House to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 13 U.S. military servicemembers killed in the Aug. 26 terror attack at the Kabul airport. One of those soldiers was Wentzville native, Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz. At 20 years old, he showed a bravery most of us can only imagine, and because of that bravery thousands of Americans got to see their family members again. But his parents have to live the rest of their lives without their child. I pray they can also hold onto the knowledge their loss spared countless other parents from the pain they are experiencing.

Veterans Day is the perfect opportunity to honor the Americans who have served and continue to serve this country, but there is never a bad time to thank a veteran for their service. They put their lives on the line to protect not only their own families, but an entire nation of Americans they don't know. We are forever indebted for this unbelievable selflessness and are grateful each and every day for life in this free country.

To all the veterans and military families in the Third District, thank you.

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 635-7232.

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