Heidi Heitkamp: On Memorial Day, remember the many different ways to serve

WASHINGTON--Bill and Mary Gietzen raised their 15 children on a farm outside of Glen Ullin, N.D. It was on that farm that their children learned the importance of hard work, dedication and service.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Heidi Heitkamp

WASHINGTON-Bill and Mary Gietzen raised their 15 children on a farm outside of Glen Ullin, N.D. It was on that farm that their children learned the importance of hard work, dedication and service.

Of the 15 children, seven of them joined the military at some point in their lives, answering the call of duty time and time again.

Three of their boys served together in Vietnam, where Gene-who was 19 years old at the time-was killed. His twin brother, Glenn, escorted Gene's body home.

Despite such a terrible loss, the Gietzens continued to serve, as four more of the children joined the military in different capacities, including serving in the Marine Corps, Army, U.S. Special Forces and as a combat medic.

On Memorial Day, we thank and honor families such as the Gietzens, who put so much on the line for our country. So many of the Gietzens' children were put in harm's way, but they continued to step up to serve-even after losing one of their siblings.


Their love of family and country clearly knows no bounds.

In addition to the strong military service in the family, two of the Gietzens' daughters took different paths to give back-one serving as a missionary in Guatemala while her brothers were in Vietnam and then continuing to help those who are impoverished, and the other working as a nurse helping individuals and families throughout the country.

These stories are testaments to the fact that there are many ways to serve. Each of us can give back in our own way to help build our communities, support those who are less fortunate and enable our children to learn and grow.

It could mean working for a local organization that seeks to help families facing tough times. It could mean volunteering on the weekend at a homeless shelter or food bank, or helping to clean up a local park.

Or it could mean helping out at your child's school or mentoring a young student.

North Dakota has grown drastically in the past several years. Recent reports from the North Dakota Commerce Department's Census Office have shown that our state has more people per capita between the ages of 20 and 34 than any other state except Alaska. And the birth rate statewide is increasing by about 500 births per year.

We welcome the many new workers and families who have come to our state, and we hope many of them now call it home. It's by investing in our communities and those who live here that we help build our state now and for the future. And it will develop communities full of engaged citizens.

Just in the past two months, I've had the privilege to work with about 150 11th graders from Bismarck High School who are gathering information on North Dakotans who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. These kids are doing a great public service by learning about a war they were not alive to witness. Their project is making sure future generations never forget the conflict and the sacrifices from it.


And I've been using much of the research they put together for a series of speeches I have been doing on the Senate floor to tell the stories of all 198 of North Dakota's brave men who never came home from Vietnam.

Public service can be in the form of big actions, such as those of the Gietzens' children-serving in our military and choosing careers that give back-or it can come in smaller forms as we have seen from the Bismarck students-learning about our country's history, the impact it had on so many, and making sure we never forget the sacrifices of those before us.

Around this Memorial Day, I encourage all North Dakotans-young and old, those new to our state and those who have lived here their whole lives-to step up to serve in any way you can and help build a strong and engaged state for decades to come.

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