Tricounty News

Veterans Day: Remembering those who have served

By Amy Klobuchar

Minnesota's U.S. Senator

Each year on Veterans Day, Americans remember the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. This year I will remember one Minnesota veteran in particular, Max J. Beilke. Although he died nine years ago, he remains an inspiration to this day.

A few years ago I met Max Beilke's family and learned of his incredible story. At that moment, I promised to help get a new community-based outpatient VA clinic in Alexandria (his hometown) officially named in Max Beilke's honor.

I joined with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in introducing legislation for that purpose. In May, it passed and was signed into law as part of the Veterans Caregivers Act, which expands services for our wounded warriors and the families who help care for them.

It was my great honor to be in Alexandria this fall for a ceremony officially naming the VA clinic in honor of Max Beilke, a Minnesotan who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

After graduating from Alexandria High School, Max Beilke served in the Army for 22 years, including combat duty in Korea and Vietnam. He was, in fact, the last U.S. combat soldier to officially leave Vietnam.

Although he retired as a Master Sergeant, he soon returned to the Army as a civilian employee serving veterans and their families.

It was while doing this job that Max Beilke was killed Sept. 11, 2001, when an airliner hijacked by terrorists smashed into the Pentagon building.

Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet Max Beilke. But, through his family and his record of service, I have come to know him as a shining example of the many young men and women from Minnesota's towns and farms who have answered their nation's call to duty.

What I find most inspiring about Max Beilke was his lifelong dedication to the health and well-being of service members and their families, both on active duty and afterwards.

In particular, he was instrumental in getting Congress to pass the TRICARE for Life law that expanded health care coverage for military retirees. For this he was named a "TRICARE hero."

So it only made sense to dedicate Alexandria's VA clinic to a man who had spent his life as an advocate for veterans.

It was also fitting that the VA Secretary himself, Eric Shinseki, came to Alexandria to show his support and pay his respects to the memory of a fellow soldier.

As a four-star general who served as the Army's Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, Shinseki had worked with Max Beilke at the Pentagon, and he escorted his widow for the burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

The opening of the new clinic in Alexandria comes at a time when many men and women, both active duty and reserve, are returning from service around the globe.

In Minnesota, we do not have any large military bases. That makes an outpatient clinic like the one in Alexandria even more essential to fulfilling our promise to care for our troops.

This facility provides everything from primary care to mental health services to nutrition programs, all of which will now be much closer to home for veterans in that region.

Minnesota also has community-based outpatient VA clinics in Bemidji, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Hibbing, Mankato, Maplewood, Montevideo, Rochester and St. James. These clinics are a vital extension of the full range of health care services available at the VA medical centers in Fargo, Minneapolis and St. Cloud.

When we ask our young men and women to fight and die for this nation, we make a promise that we will give them the resources they need to do their jobs. We also promise to take care of them when they return home.

On this Veterans Day, and every day, let us renew our commitment to do right by our veterans as they have done right for our country.