WASHINGTON — Memorial Day is a federal holiday that commemorates the lives of American troops who died in service to the country. While lawmakers across Washington observed the holiday through tribute services and eulogizing statements, many lawmakers who are military veterans gave especially empathic reflections.
There are currently 91 veteran members of Congress, including 17 senators and 74 members of the House of Representatives. As with the broader population, the number of veterans in Congress has declined in the decades after the draft was eliminated after the Vietnam War.
That decline, the result of an increasingly professionalized military, has also meant that the burden of U.S. wars has fallen on a shrinking number of American families. Veteran lawmakers are among the highest-profile advocates for armed service members and their families. Many took this year’s Memorial Day to again address issues specific to the lived experience of millions of Americans — and their own.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., served in the United States Army for 23 years before retiring in 2014. She was deployed to Iraq in 2004, where she lost her legs and partial use of her right arm after an RPG hit her helicopter.
Duckworth shared a message Monday, saying that “Memorial Day is a somber reminder that wars are not fought by faceless, nameless troops. They are fought by our neighbors, friends and loved ones,” she tweeted. “May we never stop working to repay those who never made it home and the families who have suffered this unimaginable loss.”
Duckworth is a Purple Heart recipient and served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs before serving in the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw
In honor of Memorial Day, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, wrote an op-ed for Fox News, tweeting to “celebrate the lives of the fallen today, and take a moment to understand that, for some families, Memorial Day never really ends.”
The article, titled “Rep. Dan Crenshaw: The story of a Gold Star wife,” is a short story “based on the real stories of so many of our friends,” he said in another tweet.
Crenshaw served in the U.S. Navy as a Navy SEAL and was deployed overseas five times during his military career before his retirement in 2016. During his third deployment in Afghanistan, Crenshaw was hit by an IED blast, which left him completely blind. He eventually regained his eyesight in his left eye while his right remained damaged.
“It’s a personal day for all of us. No one talks politics or foreign policy. No one gets riled up because others just ‘don’t care enough’ about the significance of the day,” Crenshaw tweeted. “We just toast to the fallen, as they would have wanted us to.”
Rep. Jason Crow
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., completed three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. On this year’s Memorial Day, Crow took the opportunity to again push for a monument on the National Mall to the servicemembers who died in the war on terror.
“I think we’ve seen decade after decade the importance of veterans and their families, those who lost loved ones in that war, the ability to come to a place and to bring their kids and their grandkids to that place and reflect on the meaning of that experience,” Crow said in a TV interview.
Crow has pushed for a commemorative site alongside Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., the two calling the move essential for national healing. Crow also spent time interviewing an active duty Command Sergeant Major on Memorial Day who lost his son. The two discussed the experiences of active duty and veteran families and how they can be better served by lawmakers and their fellow citizens.
“You all have given more than we ever could’ve asked of you as a family. Your lifetime of service, your children’s service. We owe you all a debt of gratitude that we can never repay and can only try to do right by that sacrifice and try to honor it in the way we live our lives, the way we conduct ourselves and the nation we continue to build,” Crow told Command Sergeant Major Vimoto.
Sen. Joni Ernst
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, shared a two minute video Monday, tweeting that “On this #MemorialDay, join me in remembering all of those who gave their lives in defense of our nation—and the families & loved ones they have left behind. These heroes will never be forgotten.”
Before serving in the U.S. and Iowa Senate, Ernst served in the U.S. Army for over 23 years before retiring in 2015. While serving, Ernst lead a unit that drove convoys through the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Memorial Day is an annual reminder of the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending these great United States,” Ernst said in the video. “It is also a day to recognize that the liberties we so often take for granted do not come without a price.”
Ernst also referred to her service in her video remarks.
“As a combat veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and over 23 years in our nation’s uniform I had the honor of serving alongside the best of America,” Ernst said.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who joined the U.S. Air Force in 2003, also shared a message on Memorial Day.
“We are the land of the free because of the brave,” Kinzinger tweeted. “On Memorial Day, we remember those courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation. #HonorThem”
After joining the Air Force, Kinzinger earned his pilot wings and served in the Air Force Special Operations, Air Combat Command, and Air Mobility Command. As Kinzinger serves his sixth term in Congress, he remains an active member and continues to serve in the Air National Guard.