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Free to Celebrate the Holidays Thanks to the Men and Women in Uniform

This holiday season, Jean and I wish all South Dakotans a very merry Christmas and happy New Year. It’s a good time of the year to spend with family and friends, participating in traditions and making memories that will last a lifetime. Some of our family’s favorite traditions are from Christmas, which we are now passing down to our grandkids. We look forward to introducing our traditions to our youngest grandchild, Maverick Michael Rounds, who was born earlier this year.

Nearly every year, our family gathers at our home after the Christmas Eve church service to have homemade chicken noodle soup and open gifts. Some years, we’ll have more than 80 people over! My dad, Grandpa Don, always used to read the story of Christmas to the young kids, reminding us of the greatest Christmas gift of all—the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. Grandpa Don passed away in February, so this is our first Christmas without him. We miss him every day and we’re so thankful for the decades of Christmas memories we got to share with him.

Many families across our state and throughout the country will be spending the holiday season without their loved ones who are stationed all over the globe serving in our armed forces. Without their service and sacrifice, we would not be able to celebrate the holidays freely and safely here at home. We thank everyone who wears the uniform of the United States and we pray for their safe return. We also thank their family and friends who support them while they are protecting our country.

I recently attended two deployment ceremonies for South Dakota National Guard units. One of the units is deploying stateside and the other is deploying to Europe. Some of these men and women will be separated from their loved ones during Christmas and others are departing shortly after the holidays. I appreciated the chance to wish them well and thank them for their service before they left. I encourage all South Dakotans to say “thank you” to a military member or military family member during the holiday season.

I also recently had the honor of presenting a Bronze Star Medal to the family of the late Gilbert Mjoen of Yankton. Mr. Mjoen was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in active ground combat during World War II, where he was serving in the 104th Infantry Division. He was previously awarded the Purple Heart and the Good Conduct Medal. He returned to South Dakota in 1945. I was talking to Gilbert’s family at the award presentation in Yankton and they told me about the message Gilbert shared about his time in the war: he wanted future generations to be proud of the United States and to answer the call to serve if our freedoms are ever in jeopardy. We are only free because of the young men and women, generation after generation, who fight to protect our way of life in the United States.

To the Mjoen family, to our military families and to all South Dakotans, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous New Year.