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Veterans Day

In 1945, Clarence Hupka from St. Mary, Neb. found himself in one of the world’s greatest ironies. Surrounded by an ocean of blue water, he was dying of thirst. Traveling from Guam to the Philippines, the USS Indianapolis sunk in the Pacific Ocean after being torpedoed during the final phase of World War II. Clarence had been a member of a crew 1,200 men—only 317 survived. He knew that drinking the salty water of the Pacific would only cause him more pain and likely kill him. Remarkably, he followed his training, resisted temptation and lived.

After the war, Clarence moved near Cook, Neb. where he and his wife farmed for 40 years. Throughout his life, he shared his stories of the war, ultimately joining other Indianapolis survivors being featured in the documentary, "USS Indianapolis: The Legacy."

On Oct. 29, 2017, Clarence Hupka passed away at the age of 95. Only 18 survivors of the Indianapolis are still with us, including Dale Krueger of Wayne, Neb. We should honor them and listen to the stories they share with us.

The stories of Clarence Hupka, Dale Kreuger and veterans throughout Nebraska are inspiring to all of us. They are accounts of patriotism, heroism and sacrifice. They are also reminders of why we can never break our promise to care for those who have bravely served this nation and defended the freedoms we hold dear.

In December 2016, Congress passed my bill, the CHIP IN for Vets Act, which granted local communities the authority to manage construction of VA projects and ensure these projects are completed on time and on budget. It set up a pilot program to test this new model of construction with five initial projects. Omaha is the first community in the country to use this model.

We must also care for veterans suffering from the invisible scars of war. Right now, the VA does not provide service animals to those with PTSD. That needs to change. Research shows that service dogs often provide benefits to veterans suffering from PTSD, often treating the issue better than prescription drugs.

That’s why I worked with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to introduce the PAWS Act, a bill directing the VA to implement a five-year pilot program to provide service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. This pilot program would connect veterans with organizations that pair service dogs with those in need. These vets would also receive follow-up support for the rest of the dog’s life, helping those suffering from the unseen wounds of combat.

In May, I was humbled to join more than 650 Vietnam veterans from Nebraska for their honor flight to Washington, D.C. Flying from Omaha Eppley Airfield to Reagan National Airport, I was able to express my gratitude to them in person before they visited the memorial dedicated in their honor. Seeing Nebraska veterans reconnect with friends from the war was an incredibly moving experience that I will never forget.

Like Clarence Hupka, our veterans have experiences they want to share with the next generation. What they have lived through is a story that helps to weave our nation together. While commemorating Veterans Day this year, I hope you took the time to listen to what our veterans have to say and thank them for their service to our nation.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process, I look forward to visiting with you again next week.


Columnists
Honoring Nebraska's veterans

“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

President John F. Kennedy’s words ring true now more than ever. Each year, Veterans Day is an opportunity for Americans to set aside the things that divide our country and celebrate the men and women who have served our country through the years. This day is set apart to honor their service and sacrifice which have protected the freedom and liberties we hold in common as Americans.

This Veterans Day marks 98 years since we first observed this celebration. On Nov. 11, 1919, Armistice Day commemorated the cessation of fighting in World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. After World War II, a veteran developed the idea to expand the meaning of Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, and it became known as Veterans Day.

As Nebraskans, we not only recognize Veterans Day in our state, but we also look for opportunities to honor our veterans all year long. Our veterans sacrificed much to keep us safe on overseas battlefields, and they also continue to serve at home in their communities.

I know from personal experience how much the continued service of our veterans contributes to the Good Life. As the Chief Operating Officer of the online brokerage firm Ameritrade, several key team members who worked for me previously served in the military. As governor, I have hired a former Navy officer as chief human resources officer, a U.S. Army officer to lead administrative services and a captain from the JAG Corps to lead Veterans Affairs.

This year, my administration worked with the Legislature on a number of new initiatives that are helping make Nebraska a better place to live, work and raise a family for veterans.

My mission as governor is to make state government more effective, more efficient and more customer-focused. This year, senators and I streamlined services for Nebraska veterans by merging the two state agencies that serve them. This is something Nebraska veterans have been seeking for years. Through LB 340, we unified the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs and the Division of Veterans’ Homes, formerly part of the Department of Health and Human Services. A single agency created a united team working for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our state and country.

The Legislature and I also worked together to break down barriers for veterans and military families seeking job opportunities. We eliminated unnecessary requirements for military spouses with occupational licenses and expanded the hiring preference in Nebraska to include spouses of service members. We also waived the requirement for veterans to resubmit certification for a key property tax exemption if no change in medical condition has occurred. Finally, we created five additional military honor license plates to recognize the service of members of the reserves of the armed forces.

These are just some of the ways we are making state government work for our veterans and their families. My administration will continue to look for additional ways to make the Good Life an even better place to be a veteran.

This month, it is my hope that each Nebraskan takes the opportunity to honor all past and present servicemen and women as well as their families. This can be as simple as attending an event on Veterans Day, stopping at the local VFW or American Legion chapter for a meal or taking the time to visit a neighbor to let them know you’re grateful for their service. They have made incredible sacrifices. Taking the time to share your appreciation through a few words or time out of your day will mean the world to them.

Please join Nebraskans and Americans from across our country in honoring veterans for their service. Throughout the year, you can visit www.veterans.nebraska.gov for a calendar of veterans-related events. I hope you will check it out. Additionally, if you would like to share a story about a veteran’s service, I want to hear from you. Please call my office at 402-471-2244 or email me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov.


Columnists
Republicans, pedophiles and polar bears, oh my!

Kathleen Parker

Washington Post Writers Group

Desperation seems to be driving Republicans this grateful season as they seek to trade polar bears for tax cuts, while fervently praying that former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore didn't do what he's alleged to have done, which might give the U.S. Senate another Democratic vote.

The race is on to pass tax reform before Dec. 12, when Alabama will select a new senator to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore, best known as the "Ten Commandments judge," recently has been accused of having pursued teenage girls several decades ago when he was in his 30s. He is set to face off against Democrat Doug Jones, who prosecuted two of the Klansmen accused of setting off the bomb in a Birmingham church that killed four African-American girls in 1963.

Paging Flannery O'Connor. Not that this evolving Southern gothic narrative needs a fiction writer's labors. Even O'Connor, who once explained Southerners' tendency to write about "freaks" because "we are still able to recognize one," would be hard-pressed to embellish the already weird. We might also ping William Faulkner while we're at it, who noted that the past isn't past. In Alabama, where I once worked as a reporter, the past just keeps on truckin'.

In the wake of these accusations by four women, including one who was 14 at the time of Moore's alleged advances, several Republican senators have offered cautious remarks, saying that "if true," then Moore should step aside. If true, Moore should probably re-read those commandments more closely rather than forcing his courtroom audiences to study them as he presided over others' moral failings.

While it is neither right nor fair to condemn another without due process, the statute of limitations is well past on these allegations, which were published by Washington Post reporters who spent a month interviewing dozens of people in addition to the accusers. In the case of one teen, Moore allegedly offered alcohol to his underage date and modeled his "tight white" underwear. The swirl of allegations arrived at a moment when it seemed likely that Moore was to become Alabama's senator. The state hasn't elected a Democrat to the office in more than 20 years.

As momentum builds for Moore's possible retreat and optimism grows among Alabama Democrats, Republicans desperate to pass something before year's end have been trying to pull elephants out of hats. Or something. In addition to proposing tax cuts for the rich, they've turned from draining the swamp to thawing the Arctic to scrounge up more money. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has introduced a bill that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

Murkowski, usually the more rational member of Alaska's Senate duo, seems to have fallen under the spell of the greedy brotherhood. If we were desperate for oil, her bill might make more sense, but we're in the midst of a glut. Some environmentalists, meanwhile, have questioned the Congressional Budget Office's projection that Arctic drilling would produce $1.1 billion over a decade. For this to be true, they say, oil would need to earn $70 per barrel. Yet, in West Texas today, a barrel of crude oil is selling for about $57. Obviously, this is only a $13 difference. And the refuge contains 19 million acres, of which Murkowski proposes exploiting only 800,000.

For now. But what about later? And what refuge might be next?

More than 100 years ago, when the first national wildlife refuge was established by President Theodore Roosevelt, we seemed to have a better sense of our role as wardens of our nation's natural resources and the ecosystems that support wildlife. The idea that we no longer need to protect or manage animals humanely -- or that they still have more than enough acreage to sustain them -- ignores the reasons we created these protections in the first place and the reality that the planet does not, in fact, require our presence.

The fact that this is a partisan issue simply ignores reason.

That a few Republicans would sacrifice even a square inch of the Arctic unnecessarily for the profit of a political victory is, frankly, as stomach-turning as the image of a tighty-whitey-wearing Roy Moore pawing a 14-year-old. Surely, there's a better way to make a buck -- and a better soul to warm Sessions' seat.