Q: How long has the U.S. observed Memorial Day?
A: Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day is one of Americans' reverent traditions of remembrance for those who have died in service to their country since the American Civil War. In local cemeteries across Iowa, hometown heroes for generations have been laid to rest among family members, friends and neighbors. Memorial Day offers those left behind an opportunity to pay homage to their service and sacrifice. Community parades, flower tributes and flag ceremonies at local cemeteries are longstanding rituals in Iowa. Inspired by the famous World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields," artificial poppy sales organized by veterans' service organizations continue to symbolize the loss of life in remembrance of those who have died in battle. More than 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln reflected in his Gettysburg Address that the honored dead "gave the last full measure of their devotion" so that we may continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty and freedom for generations yet to come. While it began as a community observance, May 30, 1868, marked the first national celebration of Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery with flowers placed on the graves of soldiers. A half-century later, President Herbert Hoover, Iowa's native son, conducted a national Memorial Day ceremony there on May 30, 1929. Hoover called upon Americans to give gratitude for those who "gave life itself in service to their ideals." Today more than 400,000 are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that established the federal observance of Memorial Day to be held the last Monday in May. It took effect in 1971. In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance to call upon Americans to observe a moment of gratitude at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for America's fallen heroes. For a quarter-century, the Rolling Thunder motorcycle brigade roars into the nation's capital to advocate for POW/MIA families. As we pay tribute to those who have lost their lives so that we may live as a free people in a free society, let us also salute those who champion the legacy and sacrifice of those unaccounted for in service to our country.
Q: Why did you write to the internal watchdog at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs?
A: Like all veterans and their families, I want to get to the bottom of the recent allegations regarding excessive delays in medical care in veterans' facilities. The allegations point to shortcomings in at least three states. I want to find out how widespread the problem is and what is being done to fix it. Obviously, I'm pursuing answers to confirm that the VA facilities that serve Iowans are not falsifying appointment records and Iowans are seen in a reasonable time. This includes the Iowa City VA Medical Center, the Central Iowa VA Medical Center, the Omaha VA Medical Center, the Sioux Falls VA Medical Center, and community outpatient clinics in Iowa affiliated with these medical centers. The United States of America has a sacred obligation to honor and never forsake our fallen and living heroes who have sacrificed life and limb to defend the homeland, protect national security and fight for our values with valor and virtue. I'm working to make sure the federal government doesn't forget it.