Bob Dole is a former Republican presidential nominee and Senate majority leader who served in Congress for 35 years. He will receive the Pritzker Military Museum & Library Citizen Soldier Award on Oct. 21.
This year marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. As the world gathered to commemorate this historic milestone and remember those 400,000-plus Americans who perished in combat, I took a moment to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who fought alongside me.
In recent decades, ours has been called the "greatest generation." As World War II raged across Europe and Asia, my fellow soldiers and I crossed oceans to fight for freedom and liberty. The years at war treated each of us differently, but we all bear the scars of battle and loss. Our time there taught us lessons in humanity, pain, tolerance and our own resilience. We returned to a changed America and worked together to build our country into a prosperous nation.
Many speak about military families and those whose generations influenced their desire to serve. Today, we think of those as a small portion of our military community, yet we have all been influenced by those who came before us. More importantly, we are inspired by those who first embraced the idea of a greater good -- a notion that the future's promise and a shared set of ideals were more important than the lines that divided us. This idea is what it means to be a citizen soldier -- someone who embodies these dual traditions of service both in peace and in war, sacrificing their time, energy and sometimes lives for the greater good of all.
The citizen soldier tradition has been a foundation of the United States, starting with George Washington. Since America's beginning, the nation has trusted its citizen soldiers not only to defend our country when called upon but, as in the case of Gen. Washington, to serve the nation as leaders in war and in peace. These men took up arms and a cause to protect the seeds of the nation we live in today. Many of these war-weary men also continued their service to become the leaders and architects of America. We now stand as the greatest nation on Earth because of their service, not just in fighting for independence, but fighting for the ideals we have always held dear.
Today's generation of military men and women continues to embody the ideals of service. No matter their background, hometown, ideology or personal beliefs, it is the overarching dedication to the betterment of the country and the world that drives them to serve. These citizen soldiers run for political office or continue to create change in their communities. To them, service is an ongoing mission -- a mentality. Service is not just one or two people; it takes a nation.
I call upon us to remember these ideals as we move forward as a nation. It is up to us to listen to our better angels, to cross the lines that divide us and come together for the greater good. I am reminded of a quote from George Washington, "Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country."
Not just military men and women, but all of us would be better if we adhered to the tenets of the citizen soldier, in both war and peace -- that service for the greater good leads to honor, prosperity and a better future for all.
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