Since the Civil War, Americans have gathered each year on Memorial Day to remember those courageous souls who answered the call to serve our country. We gather together to express our gratitude for their service. And 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.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War – and on Memorial Day, we remember those thousands of servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned home. Their names are etched into the walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – and forever etched into the memories of those who never had the chance to say goodbye. On this day, we remember that freedom is not free.

At the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., stands a Freedom Wall adorned with 4,000 gold stars to commemorate the more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives in the Second World War. Many Kansans are represented by those stars – including one brave Marine who went above and beyond the call of duty in service to his country.

Sergeant Grant Timmerman was born in Americus, Kansas in 1919, and at the age of 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. As a tank commander, Sgt. Timmerman was assigned to the Second Marine Division in the Pacific Theater. On June 15, 1944 – known as D-Day in the Pacific – Sgt. Timmerman landed on the sands of Saipan, under heavy attack from the Japanese. Three weeks later – on July 8th – Sgt. Timmerman was engaged in a fierce fire fight with the enemy when his tank’s progress was halted by a series of Japanese pillboxes and trenches.

Immediately, Sgt. Timmerman began preparations to fire the 75 mm gun mounted on the tank, but mindful of the danger from the muzzle blast to his comrades, he fearlessly stood up in the exposed turret and ordered the infantry to hit the deck. As a grenade hurled by the Japanese was about to drop into the open turret hatch, Sgt. Timmerman threw himself on top of the grenade, taking the blunt of the explosion, and saving the lives of his crew. For his selfless action and heroism, his country bestowed upon this brave man its highest honor – the Medal of Honor.

At moments like this, we are reminded of the cost of freedom. There is no group of people I hold in higher regard than our nation’s veterans, who have dedicated their lives to serving our country.

Earlier this year, Senator Roberts and I introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to award another Kansas war hero the Medal of Honor for his acts of valor in the Korean War. Father Emil Kaupan was born in Pilsen, Kansas in 1916, and served as a chaplain for the 8th Calvary Regiment of the First Army Division. His courageous actions in the Korean battlefields saved countless lives, as he ran under enemy fire to rescue wounded soldiers. When Father Kaupan 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 Kaupan 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, the Father 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.

Today, our nation’s young men and women are still risking their lives for the sake of others. In Iraq, Afghanistan and across the globe, our service members are fighting for those principles we hold most dear – freedom and justice. During the Easter holiday, I traveled to Afghanistan to meet with Kansas troops and thank them for their service. Their unyielding efforts overseas are protecting American lives here at home.

We thank God for giving us these heroes, and we stand committed 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.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran is a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.