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.