On this Memorial Day, we commemorate those heroic and selfless Americans who have given their lives in service to our nation. In tribute to their ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our freedom and safety, we watch over their graves and honor their memory in a sacred day of remembrance that began as a simple act of placing flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers in 1868.
Remembering that our freedom was won by the sacrifices of individuals before us, this occasion is that much more poignant as Americans continue to serve in harm’s way at this very moment in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.
On this day, and every day, we thank the exceptional servicemen and servicewomen who continue to answer the call to protect and defend our country. With heavy and proud hearts we recall the heroism of the 41 Mainers among 4,457 Americans who have perished in Iraq and the 21 Mainers of the 1,572 Americans who have perished in Afghanistan, as well as the more than 43,000 injured. The selfless bravery of the men and women of our Armed Forces throughout generations has kept our homeland safe and free and is a gift we can never repay but must always venerate.
In honor of every fallen American — and their families and loved ones — it is our obligation as Americans to uphold the ideals for which they died each and every day. In keeping with the spirit of President Abraham Lincoln’s promise, cited by the Department of Veterans Affairs in their mission statement, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan,” it is our duty to provide the utmost care and respect for the service of our brave uniformed men and women.
Regrettably, recent protests near funerals and burials of fallen soldiers have utterly disrespected this obligation and undermined the respect military families and loved ones deserve. To preserve and fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to our servicemen and servicewomen, veterans and those who have died in service to our nation, I recently introduced the Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or “SERVE” Act (S.815). A simple remedy to repugnant protests during tributes paid to our most valiant Americans, this legislation expands the time and space given to families to grieve in peace and sets clear, appropriate penalties for those whose conduct at military funeral services exceeds the protections of the First Amendment.
Without undermining sacrosanct First Amendment rights, the SERVE Act ensures families have the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved one in peace and with the well-earned solemnity and decorum of a funeral for a fallen military hero. I am pleased to report many of our nation’s premier organizations serving our veterans, Armed Forces and their families have endorsed this initiative, including Gold Star Wives, the Military Officers Association of America, the Marine Corps League, the U.S. Army Warrant Officers Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, EANGUS, Non-Commissioned Officers Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Military Families United and AMVETS.
In Congress, where our immeasurable gratitude to those who have served in uniform transcends politics, it is no surprise so many of my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle have offered their strong support for this initiative. Senators representing states across the nation have joined this effort on behalf of fallen soldiers, families and veterans, including Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Scott Brown, R-Mass., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Daniel Coats, R-Ind., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Mike Johanns, R-Neb., Jim Inhofe R-Okla., John Kerry, D-Mass., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Harry Reid, D-Nev., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Jim Webb, D-Va. and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
I also want to express my sincere appreciation to a young man in Maine, Zach Parker, the Searsport District High School senior whose commitment to the cause of protecting military funerals from disruption has served as great inspiration to me and many others. He took on a controversial issue and made it his cause to bring attention to the need to reform how protests at military funerals are conducted.
How fitting it is in this time of remembrance that the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is preparing to hold the first Congressional hearing on the SERVE Act. As this initiative gains its due recognition in Congress, I am hopeful it receives full Senate and House consideration and promptly finds its way to President Obama’s desk for signature.
This Memorial Day and every Memorial Day, we gratefully and humbly praise every fallen American, our veterans, our servicemen and servicewomen, and their families. And in showing our appreciation for their tremendous service, we commit ourselves to preserve those American ideals for which they made the ultimate sacrifice.
Olympia J. Snowe is Maine’s senior senator.