Growing up in a small Oklahoma town, I never dreamed I would someday have the opportunity to work at our nation’s Capitol. As a member of the U.S. Senate radio and television personnel, I had opportunities to meet world leaders on a daily basis.

I will never forget the day I was summoned to the White House to work with the vice president on a public service announcement. To say I was a little nervous when I clipped on his lapel microphone is an understatement. I was honored when I was later chosen to develop the official documentary commemorating his presidential inauguration. It is one of my proudest achievements to this day.

Hardly a day went by when I didn’t serve some of the most powerful people in the world. Men like Robert Byrd, Strom Thurmond, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Jesse Helms, Ted Kennedy, John Glenn and Bob Dole were with us on a regular basis.

The first time I met Sen. Dole, I reached out to shake his hand not realizing it had become unusable as a result of a war injury. He graciously extended his left hand and smiled. I felt silly, but the experience was a gentle reminder of the sacrifices men like Sen. Dole had made for our country.

Living in Washington D.C. provided many opportunities to gain a real appreciation for our men and women in uniform. Arlington Cemetery, the Iwo Jima and Vietnam Veterans Memorials were sobering reminders of what it meant to pay the ultimate price for freedom.

I remember vividly the evening President George H. W. Bush announced we were at war in the Persian Gulf. As I looked across the dinner table at my blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby girl in the high chair, my mind went immediately to the West Point graduation ceremonies I attended some years earlier. Would my friend Steve be called into action? Would my step-brother, an enlisted Marine, be serving on the frontlines of the war? The sacrifice of war became painfully clear that day.

Nearly 10 years later, I watched as the twin towers fell in New York City. The war had come home. I stood with my family recently among an overflow crowd at the Lloyd Noble Center as my brother-in-law was among those to be deployed to serve in Iraq. I fought back tears as my little girl hugged the leg of her uncle asking him when she would see him again.

This same pain and sense of honor have been experienced time and again as America’s finest ventured into the vast unknown in defense of freedom, liberty and justice for all. How heartbreaking it has been for spouses, parents and loved ones to hear their son or daughter has paid the ultimate price for freedom. In John 15:13 we are reminded that greater love has no man than when he lays down his life for a friend.

Their names may not be recognizable or associated with positions of power, but these are our nation’s real heroes. Because of their love for us, we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.