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Honoring Kentucky's veterans in U.S. history

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By Tom McKee

On Friday, our nation will celebrate its independence with fireworks, food and fellowship. If Founding Father John Adams had had his way, however, all of that would be taking place on Wednesday instead.

That’s because he thought July 2, 1776 – when the Second Continental Congress actually voted to break away from Great Britain – would become the most remembered day in America’s history rather than when the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted.
Although his prediction proved wrong, it certainly didn’t diminish the major role he played in our country’s early history. He led the push to have Thomas Jefferson be the chief author of the Declaration of Independence, and with George Washington directing the Continental Army by this point, Adams and Jefferson were the only ones to sign it who would later go on to be President.
They later became political adversaries, but their friendship survived as the years went by, and both died just hours apart on the same day: July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the very document they helped to create.
Kentucky, of course, was not one of the 13 original colonies, but as part of Virginia, it did play a role in our country’s early years.  
To begin with, there were several skirmishes during the Revolutionary War, including one of the last: The Battle of Blue Licks in Robertson County.
While that fighting occurred after the war was largely over, it was still a devastating blow for our early settlers.  Among those killed were Colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg – who were later honored by having two of Kentucky’s counties named after them – and Daniel Boone’s son Israel.
While each fourth of July is set aside as a celebration of freedom, it is also a time to remember all who have sacrificed their time, talents and even their lives and limbs to make that possible.
Kentucky has always given more than her fair share, and over the last dozen years, our contributions have grown substantially.
Two years ago, a study authorized by the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs underscored just how much the commonwealth provides when it comes to protecting our country.
Military expenditures here jumped dramatically in the decade before the study, from $3.2 billion to $15.3 billion.  That includes a tripling of defense contract work awarded to private businesses.
That same year, Kentucky had 58,000 active-duty and civilian employees based at our military installations and nearly 14,000 others serving in the National Guard or the Reserves; we also had the fourth-highest number of active-duty Army personnel among the states.  In addition, there were 27,000 military retirees living in Kentucky in 2012, and their retirement pay exceeded a half-billion dollars.  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the report found that half of these retirees lived in just 40 of Kentucky’s 800 zip codes.
Overall, the military is more than twice the size of our next largest industry that could be located elsewhere.
It would be difficult to put a price on the countless contributions we see from the military here in Kentucky, and it would be impossible to calculate the value we as a nation have received from the millions of men and women who have served our nation.
There are also many others who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving our country, and we honor and remember them with memorials both here and across the country.  
A little more than a month ago, we broke ground for the newest: the Kentucky National Guard Memorial, which could have as many as 450 names once complete.
The General Assembly has also authorized another memorial to recognize those whose lives have been lost while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was proud to sponsor that legislation.
As we celebrate our country’s symbolic birthday, I encourage you to recall the actions of those who fought for our freedom. Without them, July 4th would be just another day, and our country, if it existed at all, would not be the beacon of hope it is for the world.
I hope you have a very happy Fourth of July.