AUSTIN -- In the land of the free, Texans honor their bravest.
Hundreds gathered Monday morning at the Georgetown-Williamson County Veterans Memorial Plaza for the annual Veterans Day ceremony in Sun City. Dozens lined up to shake the hand of a 100-year-old veteran of the Second World War. Whether they served in Europe, Africa, Asia or the Middle East, Monday was for honoring the service of the nation's veterans, young and old.
"It's just a remembrance of the service and sacrifice that them and their families have contributed to this nation," said Brigadier General Clark W. LeMasters, Jr. As the commanding general of the 13th Sustainment Command at Fort Hood, LeMasters gave the keynote address Monday morning. "We wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for our veterans."
"This is great, this is fantastic," said Vietnam veteran Mitch Michielutti. "This is what America's about."
Monday also provided a reminder that America is still at war. More than 6,600 U.S. service members have been killed in the 12-year War on Terror. More than 50,000 have returned home with injuries suffered in combat, and more than 200,000 have returned diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"They seem that they're coming back a little more hurt than we were. But they're coming back to a more friendly country than we came back from Vietnam," said Michielutti. "I feel sorry for them."
With the nation's second-highest veteran population, Texas is home to roughly 1.6 million veterans. Those who hope to lead the state into the future have made looking after them a top priority.
As she formally filed her candidacy for governor on Saturday, State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) told KVUE veterans' benefits are a major plank in her campaign.
"I've seen that our veterans are returning and not realizing the promise that we should be delivering upon," said Davis. "Making sure that they have an opportunity to return to a good job. Making sure that they have the opportunity to return to adequate physical and mental health services."
"Just last week I met in El Paso with a number of service providers who need very small amounts of money to do important things like provide emergency housing for our veterans; make sure that they have separate housing available for our homeless female veterans; making sure that they're providing job training and mental health services for them," Davis added. "A large, unacceptable part of our population that is homeless also happens to be people who served this country in our time of need, and I think Texas can do a better job of taking care of those needs."
At his own campaign filing later the same morning, Attorney General Greg Abbott addressed the most recent state election in which Texas voters elected to pass constitutional amendments creating property tax breaks for the spouses of service members killed in action. The amendments also give tax exemptions for homes donated to disabled veterans.
"One of the votes that took place on the constitutional ballot was to ensure that we do more to help veterans in this state," said Abbott. "The best way we can help honor people like my brother, who served in the United States military for 20 years, as well as all the veterans who call Texas home, is to do all that we can to support them."
"These are the men and women who ensured that we have the freedoms that we enjoy today," said Abbott. "And I want to make sure that as their next governor, I will protect the freedoms they fought for."
Monday was a day to say thanks, and the hundreds gathered in Sun City made their heartfelt gratitude apparent. Meanwhile the work continues to make sure veterans are properly cared for every day of the year.