In honor of veterans and their families, project underway

By Chellie Pingree | Nov 28, 2019

Our service members and veterans are owed a tremendous debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they’ve made for our nation. When democracy has been tested and our values threatened, I’m thankful there were Americans brave enough to answer our nation’s call. What would this country be without them?

I believe the best way to honor the Mainers who’ve put themselves in harm’s way is to support them and their families when they return home. As a member of Congress, I’ve made it a priority to address the veteran suicide crisis, support Hire a Vet programs, ensure Blue Water Navy Veterans exposed to Agent Orange and others with burn-pit exposure can access the benefits they deserve, vote for legislation to address veteran homelessness, continue my push to address and prevent military sexual trauma and survivor benefits, and more.

I recently had the opportunity to present military service medals to the family of Anthony A. Ornatek, a World War II veteran who survived being shot down over Nazi-occupied France in December 1943. With support from the French resistance, the 23-year-old waist-gunner eventually reached safety in Switzerland in May 1944.

As was common for many in the Greatest Generation, Mr. Ornatek rarely shared his harrowing experience with his family. Since his passing, his children have been on a mission to uncover the details of his incredible story and better understand their father. I’m grateful that my office was able to play a role in obtaining both his medals and military records to help them piece together a picture his bravery.

In an effort to encourage more veterans to share the stories of their time in service, I also recently brought the Veterans History Project to Maine. The Veterans History Project, a part of the Library of Congress, was created by Congress in 2001 to give veterans a platform to share and preserve their personal narratives about their time in uniform and help Americans understand military service and its importance to our country’s history.

Through the Veterans History Project, 17 interviewers were trained in documenting veterans’ stories and will go out into Maine communities to collect the individual experiences of Maine veterans. I had the opportunity to interview Adria Horn, former Director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Affairs, for the project; we had the chance to talk about her experience as a young woman at West Point, serving in the military police in 2001 after 9/11, and even the yak farm she now owns and maintains here in Maine.

Our state has a proud history of high rates of military service. During the Civil War, Maine contributed a higher proportion of our citizens to the Union army than any other state in the nation. I’m proud to represent a state that has continued the legacy of selfless service to our country. One out of every ten Mainers are veterans—one of the highest numbers of veterans per capita of any state in the nation.

I am grateful to our troops, veterans, and their families, all of whom have made great sacrifices on behalf of our freedoms. As a state and country, let us reflect on the values of our military, and commit ourselves to leave no veteran behind when they return home.

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