Not so long ago, there was a young boy growing up in a town about the size of Reedsburg. His parents were divorced, and the boy lived with his mom, who had to work in order to provide for them. Every day after school, the boy would go home, put his books on the kitchen counter, then head over to his neighbor’s house to catch up with Mr. Rhodes.

Mr. Rhodes was retired and spent a lot his time gardening and working to keep up the house. The boy would pitch in to help, but mostly he was interested in Mr. Rhodes’s stories – stories about his service in the U.S. Army during World War II.  Those stories made an impression on the boy, as did the work in the garden. It was in Mr. Rhodes’s backyard where the boy developed his dreams to serve in the Army and to one day own a farm.

That boy was me. After graduating from high school, I enlisted in U.S. Army and served for 20 years, on three continents, and in two conflicts. During that time, I came to know hundreds of other servicemen and women, including the woman who would become my wife, Kim. 

Kim grew up in Westby and started her military career by joining the ROTC program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse while she attended the Nursing Program at Viterbo University.  My wife served 14 years in the Army and served in the first Gulf War (where we met) and again in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope. 

Like Kim and I, American veterans come from all different backgrounds and joined the service for different reasons. But despite our differences, we found a greater calling in serving our nation. A commitment to that service bound us together.

About seven percent of living Americans have served in the military, and less than one percent are currently serving. Service in the armed forces is not easy or for the faint of heart. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice or have lasting wounds that will never heal – some that we can see, some that we can’t.

This Veterans Day, I’d like to thank all who have served for dedicating themselves to a purpose greater than themselves. I’d also like to let my civilian friends know how much those words of thanks mean to us. It may seem like a modest gesture, but a simple thank you is a reminder to so many that they are not alone, and that those endless days and nights and the time away from loved ones is appreciated.

Rep. Tony Kurtz represents the 50th Assembly District.