Durbin Honors Illinois World War II Veteran & POW on the Senate Floor
Ahead of Veterans Day, the Senate unanimously approves legislation sponsored by Illinois Senators to honor American veterans with a national moment of silence
[WASHINGON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) spoke on the Senate Floor to honor a Skokie, Illinois veteran, Tony Gargano, who served with the United States Navy during World War II and spent three years as a prisoner of war. Tony and his family connected with Durbin’s office after he visited Washington, DC, with Honor Flight Chicago last month. During that trip, Tony also shared his story with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress, a program that collects the personal accounts of American war veterans like Tony so that they may be heard by future generations. During his speech on the Senate Floor, Durbin recounted a few of the memories Tony shared with the Veterans History Project.
“When asked if he is a hero, Tony says: ‘There were others who had it much worse. The people we should honor are the ones where the white crosses are. Those are your heroes.’ And he’s right. But Tony is a hero, too,” Durbin said.
“And it is the service and sacrifice of people like Tony that we must continue to honor and recognize, not just on Veterans Day this Wednesday, but every day, by upholding the promises we have made to them. Too often, our service members return home only to find themselves facing challenge after challenge, not only suffering from the physical and mental wounds of war, but also struggling to find work or a home. We cannot simply commemorate their service with words and accolades, but we must express our gratitude through action.”
Shortly after Durbin delivered his remarks, the Senate approved his legislation to establish a nationally recognized two-minute moment of silence on Veterans Day to commemorate the sacrifice of United States veterans. The Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act, which is co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), must now be passed by the House of Representatives.
Video of Durbin’s remarks is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s remarks is available here.
Durbin’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
Remarks by Senator Richard J. Durbin
Veterans Day Floor Statement
November 9, 2015
This Wednesday, Americans all across this country will gather to honor all those who’ve fought for our freedom and thank them for a debt that we can never fully repay.
Whenever freedom is threatened, our brave men and women have answered the call to serve.
In honor of Veterans Day on Wednesday, I’d like to take moment to recognize an Illinois veteran from what some call our “Greatest Generation.”
Story of Tony Gargano
I’d like to take you back first to December 7, 1941 – the day that will live in infamy – when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was also Tony Gargano’s 22nd birthday, and the day he decided to enlist in the United States Navy.
He was assigned to a ship disguised as a merchant marine vessel. Tony and his shipmates didn’t wear Navy uniforms or carry identification – and their ship had no guns.
And in November 1942, a German ship – also disguised as a merchant vessel – sank it.
Tony survived and boarded the German ship. Soon after, he was turned over to the Japanese where he spent the next 3 years as a prisoner working in a Japanese coal mine.
Every day, he’d come out of the mine, covered head to toe in coal ash. In those 3 years, Tony never showered – never even washed his hands. And he worked more than ten hours a day on less than eight ounces of water and six ounces of spoiled rice.
Here’s how Tony described his experience, quote: “They torture you. They beat the hell out of us. You’d try to get up and they’d beat you back to the ground. You prayed to God they would kill you.”
By the time the war was over and the Red Cross arrived, Tony couldn’t believe he was alive.
After arriving in the United States, he was quarantined for weeks. He couldn’t call his family to tell them he was alive. But Tony survived and came home.
Fast-forward seventy years, Tony Gargano is 95 years old and marvels at his good fortune.
After the war, he came home and married Julia Eilliot – the love of his life – and worked six days a week as a maître d’ at Elliot’s Pine Log Restaurant in Skokie, Illinois.
He watched his son and daughter grow up and enjoyed the arrival of his five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. What a life.
Last month, Tony Gargano came to Washington, DC, with Honor Flight Chicago. He visited the White House and the World War II Memorial.
And he shared his harrowing story with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
He was asked: “What do think of when you look back on your life?” Here’s what he responded with: “Everything turned out pretty good. I met a nice, young lady. We got married, and spent 60 beautiful years together. I have no complaints.”
The joys of Tony’s life have outshined the horrors of war.
And when asked if he is a hero, Tony says: “There were others who had it much worse. The people we should honor are the ones where the white crosses are. Those are your heroes.”
And he’s right. But Tony is a hero, too.
Tony Gargano faced unspeakable evil with grace and quiet courage. And lived his life with love in his heart. That makes him a true American hero.
The promise to our veterans
And it is the service and sacrifice of people like Tony that we must continue to honor and recognize, not just on Veterans Day this Wednesday, but every day, by upholding the promises we have made to them.
Too often, our service members return home only to find themselves facing challenge after challenge, not only suffering from the physical and mental wounds of war, but also struggling to find work or a home.
We cannot simply commemorate their service with words and accolades, but we must express our gratitude through action.
We must ensure that our veterans and their families have access to health care…education…jobs…housing.
My efforts to assist veterans
I have been committed to these efforts.
I was proud to lead the fight for the VA Caregiver Program. It provides the families of severely disabled Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with the support they deserve to care for their loved ones.
Thousands of veterans and their caregivers in Illinois and nationwide participate in this program, with much success. And I recently introduced legislation to expand the program so that all veterans with service-connected injuries can participate.
We know that veterans face unnecessary delays in claims processing and reimbursement. I have worked hard to cut down on the backlog and encouraged the VA to address this impending problem.
I have also supported efforts to ensure that VA Hospitals and Medical Centers in Illinois and across the country provide the highest quality of care to our veterans.
This is especially important as our veterans face new medical challenges – returning home with loss of limb or deep-seated mental trauma.
I have been proud to sponsor bills that would strengthen post-traumatic stress disorder services for veterans and their families as well as improve orthotics and prosthetics research and education to help our wounded warriors.
I have also been proud to help veterans get homes and jobs. For example, just this year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded more than $674,000 in grants to assist homeless veterans in Illinois through a tenant-based voucher program. Imagine how much more is helping homeless veterans across our nation.
I have supported comprehensive veterans’ employment legislation – such as the Vow to Hire Heroes Act – that helped to make some of these connections through tax credits, job training, and transition assistance.
And I was pleased to read just this morning that unemployment among all veterans reached a seven-year low last month according to data recently released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
I have also led efforts to protect our veterans from being exploited by for-profit education companies looking to make a buck rather than provide quality education.
I have even pushed unique or nontraditional means of providing for our veterans – for example, by pursuing ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty that help make the entire world more accessible for persons with disabilities, such as our veterans.
So I’d like to take moment to thank all those who have risked – and even given – their lives for this nation, and their families.
And for the wounds they have suffered … the sacrifices they have made … and the freedoms they have secured.
We remember and honor the service of every American veteran, not only at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, but every day of every year.
Because even though service members and veterans like Tony may shy away from being labeled as heroes, they are truly the most deserving of the honor.
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