November 11 is the day we pause every year to honor the surviving veterans who served the United States in a branch of our armed forces.
This year, we have nearly 203,000 military veterans in Arkansas; 51,000 of them served since 9/11; 35,000 served during the Gulf War; 41,000 served during peacetime; 64,000 served during the Vietnam War; and 8,000 served during the Korean conflict.
In the Second World War, 195,000 Arkansans served, which was about 10 percent of Arkansas’s population in 1940. More than 3,500 Arkansans were killed. Two-thousand eight-hundred-and-two (2,802) of our veterans are still alive from World War II.
Ernest Ennis is one of those veterans. Ernest, who celebrated his 99th birthday on Thursday, fought in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 through January 1945. Military historians consider that battle one of the most costly in the history of the United States.
Ernest went into the U.S. Army Infantry in September 1943 and was a radio operator. He deployed to England in the fall of 1944. In mid-December of that year, as the Germans launched a massive assault on American and British troops in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, Ernest and his fellow soldiers were fighting on snow-covered ground in sub-zero temperatures. From the front line, Ernest radioed the German movements to headquarters.
For one week during the battle, Ernest and the soldier in the foxhole next to him survived on one can of beans between them. Ernest was watching when his friend raised his head from the foxhole, and a German bullet killed him.
Winston Churchill described the Battle of the Bulge as “undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”
Louis Strickland was another of Arkansas’s World War II veterans who fought in one of our major battles. Louis went ashore at Normandy in 1944. Louis died in June of this year, shortly after his 101st birthday, a somber reminder that the number of our veterans from the Greatest Generation is shrinking.
This year’s ceremony to honor our veterans will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Senator John Boozman and Colonel Angela Ochoa, commander of 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, will speak.
Arkansas has 200,000 veterans. I join 3 million Arkansans in thanking you.