The Fourth of July is a time to reflect on the meaning of public service and honor the sacrifices American men and women across the generations have made to ensure our freedom.
From our country’s founding almost 250 years ago to this very moment, our friends and neighbors have selflessly served us, defending our freedom and upholding our values. That’s true From Marshalltown to Decorah to Dubuque here in Northeast Iowa, and it’s true all across this country.
One of my grandfathers served on the USS Bunker Hill in World War II, an aircraft carrier that was struck by two kamikaze planes resulting in more than 600 casualties. My grandfather, Gerald Finkenauer Sr., was lucky to survive. He almost lost his leg and carried shrapnel in it with a slight limp until he passed away five decades later.
Today, his medals — including his Purple Heart — hang on the wall of my congressional office, but he died before I was old enough to really ask him about his experience and the meaning of his service. I heard them passed down in family stories, of course, and I read about them in letters and newspaper articles, but nothing could compare to hearing him share his sacrifice in his own voice.
My other grandfather, Ron Kann, was a lieutenant firefighter who taught me at a young age that public service was about showing up, helping people, and doing your job. He served with honor and respect for our community and I’m grateful for his service every day.
We must do all we can to preserve the stories of our heroes and ensure the next generation never forgets.
On July 4 this year, I’ll be traveling to firehouses around our district to deliver American flags flown over the U.S. Capitol, a small gesture of my thanks and respect to the first responders who keep us safe.
I’ll also be honoring our veterans this year with a call to action: I want to help connect Northeast Iowa high school students with military veterans to take part in the Veterans History Project.
The Veterans History Project is a program of the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center to collect and preserve personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations can hear their stories and better understand their wartime experiences.
Later this month, I’ll be hosting a video conference with interested Iowans and officials from the Veterans History Project to explain the program and how to conduct veteran interviews remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. Participants will receive more information on how the project works and how to get involved.
High school juniors and seniors are encouraged to participate, as are U.S. military veterans of armed conflicts, peacekeeping missions, and military operations from 1939 to 2011. The live video meeting is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Friday, July 17, and you can sign up at finkenauer.house.gov/vetshistory.
Our veterans have so much to tell us and teach us about their lives, their experiences, and the meaning of service to our nation. The Veterans History Project can build one-on-one bonds between Iowa veterans and students — while preserving these important stories for generations to come.
I’m so proud to host this event and help in any way I can to bring Iowans together to honor our vets and help young people better understand our history.
Abby Finkenauer is the congresswoman for Iowa’s First District.