As we celebrated Veterans Day, we remembered that generations of courageous men and women served in our armed forces to ensure we remain a land of opportunity.
Since the earliest days of our nation, whenever freedom was threatened, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have risen to its defense. On battlefields in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and other parts of the world they heeded the call to service.
In Texas, there are more than 225,000 active duty, civilian, and guard service members - more than any other state. We are also home to over 1.6 million veterans. Our veterans are part of a long tradition of Texans who bravely fought on the frontlines and are shining examples of the true measure of American character.
Our legacy of great military heroes began with the Texas Revolution. The grit and valor of leaders like Sam Houston and William Barret Travis secured our independence from Mexico and enabled Texas' union with the United States.
Some of the most courageous champions for freedom are from the "Greatest Generation." Many of our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers rose to meet America's greatest test and defeated fascism during World War II. On D-Day, Texan Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder led his battalion of Army Rangers up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on the beaches of Normandy, where they successfully established a critically important beachhead for Allied Forces.
Later, he played a key role in overcoming the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, Lt. Col. Rudder went on to serve as President of Texas A&M University. Another famous Texan is Audie Murphy, whose brave service earned him the distinction of the most decorated hero of World War II.
The young soldier from Kingston, Texas served 27 months in multiple campaigns and was awarded 32 medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez, a native of Edinburgh, Texas fought bravely through two tours of duty in Vietnam. In his final battle in Hue City, he nearly single-handedly defeated a heavily armed contingent of Viet Cong. He paid the ultimate sacrifice in that fight, and he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The U.S. Navy named the USS Gonzalez in memory of his service, making Sergeant Gonzalez the first Mexican-American to receive that honor.
The same dedication to service and spirit of heroism is alive and well in the "Next Great Generation" - the men and women who comprise our active duty and reserve forces and are veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.
I saw firsthand this strength and character in one of our nation's youngest heroes, David Lewis of Houston. David had always wanted to serve his country, and after witnessing the horrible attacks of 9/11 he was commissioned into the U.S. Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant.
David served two tours in Iraq and was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with V for his service. When he returned home to Texas, he grew increasingly frustrated by the media's negative portrayal of the war - and the cause he believed in. So he came to Washington, where he ably served on my staff.
Lieutenant Lewis' service represents the commitment and sense of responsibility we see in so many young Americans today.
Every November, America celebrates Veterans Day. But our recognition of our military men and women - past and present - must not be limited to a single day or month of commemoration.
We should all embrace every opportunity to express our genuine gratitude for their service. And let us always remember the Texas heroes who have inspired this generation to keep fighting to protect the freedom we all enjoy.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.