Guest column: Carry forward the legacies of the fallen

Published 8:40 pm Friday, May 27, 2022

Guest column by Amy Klobuchar

Across our state, families are gathering to remember the members of our military we’ve lost. Memorial Day is a time to reflect on how we honor these fallen heroes and do right by servicemembers and veterans who are still with us.

Amy Klobuchar

This year marks the 105th anniversary of our nation entering World War I. It was a war that thousands of Minnesotans had a part in — Minnesotans like Sgt. Louis Cukela.

In the summer of 1918, Sgt. Louis Cukela and his company were stopped by a large enemy force in the woods of northern France. Ignoring the potential danger, Sgt. Cukela crawled and fought his way forward, facing heavy resistance. He was even able to get behind German lines to drive off the crew of enemy soldiers. That display of determination saved lives and earned him the Medal of Honor from both the U.S. Army and Navy.

Sgt. Cukela is just one of many courageous people from our state who put their lives on the line for our country.

So how can we best honor the fallen? One way is by better caring for those who follow in their footsteps.

Take Amie Muller. Amie enlisted in the Air Force in 1998 and joined the Minnesota Air National Guard in late 2001. While in Iraq, her quarters were right next to one of the most notorious burn pits — it operated 24 hours a day and consumed about 100 to 200 tons of waste each day.

Amie tragically passed away nine months after being diagnosed with Stage III pancreatic cancer that was likely linked to inhaling toxic fumes during her service. She left behind her husband, Brian, and their three children.

Amie wasn’t the only one who suffered from toxic exposure to burn pits. An increasing number of our troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have illnesses potentially caused by burn pit exposure.

That’s why I have fought for years to ensure our veterans who were exposed to toxic substances receive the care and benefits they need. I’m proud to say that provisions from my bipartisan bill to provide health care workers with better training to support burn pit victims are included in legislation moving forward in the Senate.

One reason this law will be so important is because we’ve seen this kind of tragedy before — we cannot let toxic burn pits become this generation’s Agent Orange. We cannot let history repeat itself.

Today, let us carry forward the legacies of those we’ve lost by recommitting ourselves to ensuring those still with us receive the respect, gratitude and care they deserve. Not just on Memorial Day, but every day.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is from Minnesota.