05/25/2012 10:29 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2012

Memorial Day 2012: Putting a Face to the Sacrifices of So Many

As we once again observe Memorial Day we remember and honor the more than one million American men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in all our wars, including more than 6,400 from our two most recent wars -- and counting.

We remember and pay tribute to the patriots who died long ago on battlefields near to home with familiar, sacred names such as Valley Forge and Gettysburg.

We remember the troops who gave their lives on battlefields and foreign shores thousands of miles away such as Meuse-Argonne and the Beaches of Normandy.

Fresher in our memories and in our hearts are the men and women who have fallen on battlefields with names like Inchon, Khe Sanh, Tora Bora, Fallujah and Kandahar.

The sheer magnitude of the sacrifices we are commemorating overwhelms the mind and overburdens the heart.

Presidents traditionally honor all these men and women on behalf of a grateful nation at the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery where more than 260,000 of our fallen troops rest. They oftentimes single out a few of these heroes for special praise.

I would like to single out the following patriots from my hometown and elsewhere whom I have had the honor of personally knowing or knowing about.

Three of my U.S. Air Force Officer Candidate School's classmates who gave their lives while serving our country during the Cold War and the Vietnam War. They are Capt. Earl L. Boggs, Capt. Albert N. Meier and Capt. James F. Ray. Capt. Ray died on June 5, 1969, when the Strategic Air Command RC-135 aircraft he was navigating disappeared and crashed after taking off from Shemya at the tip of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. His body and those of the other 18 crewmembers were never recovered. Ray was only 32.

Maj. Bill Davidson, the husband of Austin, Texas, resident and former WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilots) Millie Dalrymple, who gave his life during World War II when the B-17 he was piloting on the return from a bombing raid on a German ball bearing factory was shot down by German fighters over the North Sea in February 1943.

Also Millie's brother, Lt. James M. Inks, a World War II B-24 navigator from Llano, Texas, who had to bail out when his aircraft was hit during a bombing raid on the critical Ploesti oil installations in Romania. After spending nearly a year evading the Germans by joining the anti-communist "Chetniks," Inks was finally liberated and continued to serve his country as an Air Force troop carrier pilot flying 92 combat missions in Korea during that war. Lt. Col. Inks passed away in 2001.

Sgt. Allen W. Hancock Sr. , the father of disabled Vietnam War veteran and Austin resident Allen Hancock, was taken prisoner by the Japanese while serving in the Philippines during World War II, was forced to march in the tortuous "Bataan Death March" and spent an equally tortuous 44 months in Japanese prisoner of war camps. His son's eyes still moisten when he tells that his father weighed a mere 64 pounds upon his release at the end of the war. Sgt. Hancock continued to serve his country in the Civil Service at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. He died July 9, 2000.

Friend and next-door neighbor, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Earl Charles "Charlie" Rodenberg, a highly decorated and courageous Marine aviator who passed away a year ago after a long and valiant struggle with cancer. "Charlie" served his country with distinction for 24 years including as a life-saving "MEDEVAC" helicopter pilot in Vietnam and as a combat Naval Aviator during Operation Desert Storm.

As our country becomes embroiled in new and lengthy wars and as we continue to wage a protracted war on terrorism, it is becoming customary to, on Memorial Day, also remember those who are presently in harm's way in posts and battlefields around the world, especially our troops getting shot at in Afghanistan and those who risk their lives on dangerous and critical missions as did those magnificent Navy SEALs in Pakistan.

The President and others have used this day to also thank and pay tribute to America's veterans, especially our most recent ones from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

But lest we forget America's oldest war veterans: Our World War II veterans who are leaving us at the unrelenting rate of roughly 1,000 each day.

I want to pay my respect and gratitude to the approximately two million of these wonderful men and women who are still with us. Especially to the beautiful 92-year-old lady I mentioned above, Lt. Millie Inks Dalrymple, Congressional Gold Medal recipient, who as one of the first, trailblazing WASP during World War II contributed so much to America's war effort and to the cause of women in military aviation.

Finally, to my good Austin friend, 92-year-old French-American Maj. John Tschirhart, who flew 35 combat missions as a B-17 bombardier over Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

I salute and honor them, along with all our heroes from all our wars.