On the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg Battlefield in 1863, President Lincoln pledged that our country can never forget the “last full measure of devotion” given by our service members.
This Memorial Day, Nebraskans and people throughout this nation will carry on a solemn tradition of honoring the fallen of our wars.
Every one of them share this in common: They loved America, and they were willing to give their last full measure of devotion to protect our freedom. Those who gave everything when our country needed them most ask only one thing of us, that we remember them.
On Memorial Day, and every day, we honor and remember our fallen service members. We do so not just with our words, but also with our actions. And we don’t have to look far for evidence of this in our communities.
Before World War I came to an end, plans were underway to build Memorial Stadium in honor of those who sacrificed their lives overseas. Its northeast corner is inscribed with timeless words: “Their lives they held their country’s trust; They kept its faith; They died its heroes.” First Lieutenant Jarvis Offutt was among them, who is the namesake of Offutt Air Force Base.
Nebraskans’ commitment to honoring our fallen is alive and well among younger generations. Last year, The Washington Post chronicled the work of Vanessa Taylor, a high school student in Ainsworth, and her teacher, Nichole Flynn, as they dove into research for a history project. The goal was to honor a “silent hero” from their home state, as part of the National History Day Normandy Institute Program.
Over several months, they brought the story of two twin brothers from Nebraska to life. Julius and Ludwig Pieper of Creston were both stationed on a Landing Ship Tank called “Stardust” off the coast of Normandy during World War II. When the vessel struck an underwater magnetic mine, both brothers were killed. Ludwig’s remains were found, but Julius’s name was etched on the Wall of the Missing at the Normandy American Cemetery in France.
Vanessa and Nichole contacted the brothers’ family, the National Archives, and the Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Accounting Agency, and after thorough research, authorities were able to find a match for Julius’s remains. Julius no longer remains anonymous and he was buried, fittingly, right next to his twin brother.
In the article, the twins’ niece highlights one unforgettable memento, a letter the brothers wrote two days before their death, which read: “Do not worry about us, we are together.” Thanks to Vanessa and Nichole’s hard work that statement is true once more.
Nebraska is also home to other remarkable efforts to properly memorialize members of the Greatest Generation we lost. Recently, the Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency, based at Offutt Air Base, identified the remains of Navy Fireman First Class Grant Cook Jr. of Cozad. He was serving aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma and sacrificed his life during the attack on Pearl Harbor. For over 70 years, his grave was topped with “Known But to God.” Grant Cook Jr. was buried for a second time with a grave that bears his name.
As we commemorate Memorial Day, I encourage every Nebraskan to reflect on the sacrifices made for our freedom. This year, I’m looking forward to participating in the Adams County Memorial Day program at Parkview Cemetery in Hastings. It is my honor to join Nebraskans at this special event to remember those who gave their lives in service to our great nation.
In the days ahead, please take a moment to lay flowers on the grave of a fallen service member or pause for a moment of silence. Our hearts are with the families of our fallen, who carry a heroic burden of their own. We honor their memory.