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Today pays tribute to a century of sacrifice

Nov. 11, 1999

Each year on Nov. 11, America celebrates Veterans' Day, remembering millions of heroes who served this nation, often in faraway lands and under extreme duress.

In the current era of relative peace and prosperity, it is easy to forget that the 20th Century has witnessed more devastation and loss of life due to the tyranny of evil than any century that preceded it.

America has been center-stage in combating tyrants this century. We have sent our young into battle and hostile situations on foreign lands by the thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions, time after time this century. Too many of those brave heroes never came home, leaving loved ones and friends with feelings of irreplaceable loss.

My father, Ray Perry, was one of the young volunteers who fought in World War II and was fortunate to survive. He was a tail-gunner, flying missions over Germany as Allied forces fought their way into the heartland of Germany.

He, like many of his fellow soldiers, viewed his involvement as a service to his country, not as a heroic act. Yet like many soldiers, sailors and airmen in battle, he approached each mission not knowing whether it would be his last. He was only 19.

The millions of ordinary heroes who fought for our nation kept America free and strong.

They helped export freedom and democracy to a world hungering for it during this century.

As historian Stephen Ambrose wrote in his acclaimed book, Citizen Soldiers, 'At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn't want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and all of us, living and yet to be born, must be profoundly grateful.'

We do owe our veterans a profound debt of gratitude and that's what Veterans Day is all about. It's a time to remember that freedom is only truly precious to those willing to sacrifice all to preserve it; to remember the millions of Americans who died to preserve our freedom; and to remember that war and tyranny can rear their ugly heads when we take peace and freedom for granted.

America must not be so entranced by present-day peace that we forget evil still exists around the globe. In 1899, when the world approached a new century, few could have foretold the ruin and destruction of two world wars, a holocaust that claimed millions of lives, and the threat of communism spreading across the globe.

Today, at the dawn of the new millennium, we are right to be optimistic about the future. The world is a better and safer place thanks to the sacrifices of America and our allied nations. The song of freedom written in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Americans is now being sung in corners of the world where it had been stifled for centuries.

But we must never forget that that song was written in the blood of our heroes. They were our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. Their dreams went unfulfilled so that ours' could one day be realized.

This Veterans' Day, the last of the 20th Century, remember the young Americans who fought, died and cared for the wounded on beachheads, in frozen foxholes, in swampy jungles and on the high seas for you and me. Only those who remember the battles of the past are bound and determined to prevent them in the future.

Lt. Gov. Rick Perry served in the Air Force as a C-130 pilot from 1972 until 1977. He was elected to the Texas House in 1984, elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner in 1990, and Texas' 39th lieutenant governor in 1998.