Recently, the list of this year’s 30 inductees into the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame was announced at an event at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. In the words of retired Army Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Adams, the criteria considered for choosing the honorees include outstanding contributions in the “areas of professional, civic, veteran’s advocacy and political achievements … Men and women from all backgrounds, they represent a true cross section of Kentucky’s diverse veteran population, and the very best Kentucky has to offer.”
From the earliest days of America’s history, those who served took an oath of allegiance and swore to support the Constitution of the United States. The first oath of enlistment under the Constitution was approved by an Act of Congress in 1789 and applied to all commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers and privates in the service of the United States. Consider just a few words from today’s oath of enlistment which reads, “…I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…So help me God.”
Although the oath of enlistment has been revised over the years, it is important for all Americans to recognize the enormity of the meaning of the words of that solemn oath which is required of every service member as they embark on an uncharted journey of service to the United States of America. Take a moment to quietly consider what it means to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
For everyone who has served, or will serve in the future, the oath evidences an unspoken willingness to sacrifice and serve. In the words of an unknown author, “[a] Veteran is someone who, at one point in his [her] life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount of ‘up to and including [their] life.’”
So, after considering the oath of enlistment, and the blank check written by everyone who has served, or will serve, let me suggest that the criteria considered for induction into the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame should not be limited to only those who have contributed in the areas of professional, civic, veteran’s advocacy and political achievements. Instead, the only criteria which should be considered is that the veteran has served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States.
As we consider the criteria for nominees to the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame, take a moment to quietly reflect on the words of President Ronald Reagan in a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in 1983 when he said:
We owe this freedom of choice and action to those men and women in uniform who have served this nation and its interests in time of need. In particular, we are forever indebted to those who have given their lives that we might be free.
Sadly, the words of one of the attendees at the announcement of the names of this year’s inductees to the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame evidenced what has become a complete misunderstanding of what it means to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States when the attendee said, “The halls of this Capitol are never so filled with energy, with hope and inspiration, than when you’re here.”
While the halls of the Capitol might be a great place for a political speech, it is certainly not the best place to understand the hope and inspiration which we have inherited from those who have put on the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. If you want to truly understand the hope and inspiration of those who have served, don’t look for it the halls of some government building. Instead, take a moment to walk the fields of a military cemetery, or better yet, walk the fields of the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery.
So, while it is important for all of us to applaud and congratulate this year’s inductees into the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame, it is equally important that we remember every Kentuckian who has honorably served. To honor all of Kentucky’s veterans, how about next year instead of only inducting a few of Kentucky’s veterans, let’s pledge to induct every Kentucky veteran who has honorably served our country into the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame. Most importantly, we should remember that many Kentucky veterans never had the opportunity to build a resume of the criteria necessary to be considered for induction into the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame, because those veterans had their checks cashed on a battlefield on their uncharted journey of service to the United States of America.
Finally, if you agree that all of Kentucky’s veterans who have honorably served in the Armed Forces of the United States deserve to be inducted into Kentucky’s Veterans Hall of Fame, please join me on my imaginary mountaintop where you can pick up an application to nominate one of Kentucky’s veterans who have cashed their check on a battlefield; a Kentucky veteran who no longer has a friend or family member who can nominate them for induction into the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame.
Oh, and by the way, if you do not have the time to join me on my imaginary mountaintop and would like to nominate a Kentucky veteran, I would invite you to visit
and choose the name of one of the more than 2,000 Kentucky veterans who have fallen in combat on the battlefields of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent, federal prosecutor, and a proud veteran of the United States Army from 1971 to 1979, practices law in Lexington.
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