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Ricketts: Mortal But Unconquerable: Memorializing Our Fallen Heroes

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On Memorial Day, we honor men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in military service to our nation. Time and again throughout our Republic’s history, courageous Americans have ventured into harm’s way to protect the freedoms we hold dear. The liberties we enjoy wouldn’t be possible without their heroism.

Ricketts column 5-24::1

Gov. Pete Ricketts

A brief survey of history reminds us that freedom is rare and fragile. It’s not the norm throughout the centuries. When freedom is established, it’s often upheld at great cost through the selfless service of devoted patriots. Our Republic has endured for nearly two-and-a-half centuries due to the blood, sweat, and sacrifice of our military veterans.

One of the many things I love about Nebraskans is the honor we have for our fallen heroes. Our residents give generously to organize commemorative ceremonies, create parks, and build monuments to memorialize those we’ve lost in war. These tributes preserve the stories of Nebraskans’ heroic patriotism for future generations.

Bill and Evonne Williams, of Omaha, exemplify our state’s commitment to honoring those lost in military service. They led the creation of the Remembering Our Fallen Memorial to honor American military members who have died since 9/11. The memorial displays photos of the heroes who took the fight to the enemy after 9/11, deploying halfway around the world to dismantle terrorist networks. The brave sacrifices of these men and women in the Middle East protected our freedoms and restored peace and security here in America.

The national Remembering Our Fallen Memorial will be displayed in Omaha’s Old Market (12th and Jones Streets) from Friday, May 27, at 2 p.m. to Saturday, May 28, at 4 p.m. The Nebraska Remembering Our Fallen Memorial will be displayed at Midwest Bank at 2601 W. Cooper Street in Norfolk from May 23-30. You can learn more about the memorials by visiting www.patrioticproductions.org/rememberingourfallen.

Nebraska’s communities have also taken the initiative to build fitting tributes to our departed heroes. In March, the community of Papillion broke ground on the Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Memorial at SumTur Amphitheater. The memorial will honor those Americans who bravely served our nation during the Vietnam War. It will celebrate their love of country, call to mind their courage, and display our collective gratitude for their many sacrifices. You can learn more about it at nvvmf.org.

Last month, Nebraska hosted the dedication of a physical memorial to members of the 73rd Calvary Regiment at Heartland of America Airborne Memorial in Omaha. It honors 51 of our nation’s heroes who died while serving in the regiment. The ceremony took place on the 15th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Iraq that claimed the lives of nine soldiers from the 73rd Cavalry, including two from Nebraska: First Lieutenant Kevin Gaspers of Hastings, and Staff Sgt. Ken Locker, Jr. of Burwell. I invite Nebraskans to pay tribute to these heroes by visiting the memorial, either in person or online at www.heartlandairborne.org.

In addition to memorializing those we’ve lost, Nebraskans step up to support our Gold Star families in need. In January, Staff Sgt. Locker’s son, Preston, had his Chevy Malibu stolen from the Lincoln Northeast High School parking lot. Preston had bought the car with money his dad left him.

The thieves wrecked the vehicle, which police later found totaled and abandoned. Since the car only had liability insurance coverage, Preston’s family needed to come up with money to replace it. Family friend Stephanie Dowding started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money so that Preston could buy a new car. Nebraskans gave generously, exceeding her goal of $7,000 by donating double that amount. That’s the Nebraska way — going above and beyond to support the families who’ve lost a loved one through military service.

We also saw that support last September when a Nebraska hero — fallen Marine Corporal Daegan Page — returned home after making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. It was inspiring to see Nebraskans line the streets to honor him and support his family. Cpl. Page’s sacrifice is a sobering reminder that our freedoms can’t be taken for granted. We must continue to vigilantly defend them.

One hundred years ago, Willa Cather published the novel “One of Ours,” which won the Pulitzer Prize. The book and its main character were inspired by her cousin Grosvenor P. Cather’s service in World War I. Grosvenor grew up near Willa in Webster County and was Nebraska’s first officer to die in the war. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valor. U.S. Army records describe his heroism: “During a strong enemy attack Lieutenant Cather mounted the parapet of his trench, and, although exposed to withering machine-gun fire, he so skillfully directed the fire of his automatic rifles that the attack was repulsed. In this action he fell mortally wounded.”

A line from “One of Ours” is etched in stone at the national World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. It aptly describes the bravery of soldiers like Kevin, Ken, Daegan, and Grosvenor. “They were mortal, but they were unconquerable.” On this Memorial Day, we thank God for the unconquerable spirit of those who’ve given their last measure of devotion on our behalf.

You can learn about heroic Nebraskans who’ve given their lives in defense of freedom over the past 20 years by visiting veterans.nebraska.gov/fallen-soldiers. As always, please email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244 with any questions or concerns you may have.

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