Nearly 150 years ago, at a solemn ceremony held in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in November of 1863, President Lincoln called on all Americans to never forget those who laid down their lives so that this “nation might live.” Since the Civil War, Americans have gathered each year on Memorial Day to remember those courageous souls who answered the call to serve. We gather together to remind our children and grandchildren that because of their sacrifice, we have the opportunity to live in the strongest, freest and greatest nation in the world.

One such soldier, Father Emil Kapaun, was born in Pilsen, Kansas, in 1916 and served our country in the Korean War battlefields as a chaplain for the 8th Calvary Regiment of the First Army Division. Father Kapaun’s courageous actions in Korea saved countless lives as he ran under enemy fire to rescue wounded soldiers. When he was taken as a prisoner in 1950, he continued to live out the Army Chaplain motto – “for God and Country.” In the bitter cold of winter, Father Kapaun carried injured comrades on his back during forced marches through the snow and ice, gave away his meager food rations and cared for the sick who were suffering alongside him in the prison camp. When all else looked hopeless, he rallied his comrades to persevere – until his own death as a prisoner in 1951. This good man distinguished himself by laying down his life for the sake of others.

Last year, Sen. Pat Roberts and I introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to award the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun. The legislation was approved in December and had the support of the Secretary of the Army. Earlier this year, I joined members of the Kansas delegation in urging President Obama and Secretary of Defense Panetta to bestow this great honor upon Father Kapaun, a man who is most deserving of one of our nation’s most distinguished awards.

Today, our nation’s young men and women are still risking their lives for the sake of others and fighting for those principles we hold most dear – freedom and justice. As this new generation of troops returns home, they are facing a new challenge: timely access to care. Many veterans must often travel significant distances to receive care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), especially veterans living in rural states like Kansas.

To help our veterans receive care closer to home, I introduced legislation that would allow them to receive primary care from their local health care providers. The VA incorporated this legislation in a new pilot program that launched last year in several locations across our nation – including Pratt, Kansas. Not only will our veterans’ level of care be enhanced, but they will have shorter appointment wait times and shorter distances to travel, which is especially important for our most senior veterans. Our servicemen and women have sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy today and caring for them is our nation’s utmost responsibility. As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to make certain our nation’s veterans and their families receive the care they deserve.

As citizens, we have a duty to preserve those freedoms and liberties that generations of Americans gave their lives to establish and protect. The heroes we pay tribute to on Memorial Day have shown us the way, and it is our turn to follow them in service to our country. So when the parades have concluded and the flags have been taken down, let our commitment to good citizenship be our lasting tribute and our living tribute to our service members.

On Memorial Day, we honor our fallen servicemen and women who laid down their lives for our country and we thank God for giving us these heroes. Let us commit our lives to preserving this nation for the sake of the next generation – so they too can pursue the American dream with freedom and liberty. We are indebted to our veterans to do nothing less.