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RACINE — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan paid tribute to veterans Wednesday at Memorial Hall, his first public appearance in Racine County since becoming speaker of the House.

Ryan, R-Wis., has attended the event at Memorial Hall, 72 Seventh St., in past years, though a security detail and national television crew following him was a new twist.

Ryan told a Veterans Day audience of a few hundred students and veterans that “you can’t truly love this country if you don’t know our history, if you don’t understand the sacrifices that people made, if you don’t know what it took to make us free.”

Veterans Day is a reminder of how many people made those sacrifices, he said.

“They’re ordinary people. They’re fathers, they’re mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, colleagues,” Ryan said. “They’re not looking for any special attention. They just wanted to give back.”

Ryan highlighted the Honor Flight program, which sends local veterans to Washington to visit war memorials. But it’s also important for children to come to the memorials to learn “what it means to be American,” he said.

“Have them find a relative’s name on the Vietnam Wall … walk under the big arches of the World War II Memorial,” Ryan said.

“That’s the best way they can learn you don’t need a big name to make a big difference, to make a real contribution. That’s the genius of America.”

Ryan, whose district encompasses all of Racine County, became the first House speaker from Wisconsin after his Oct. 29 election by fellow Republicans.

Veterans said they appreciated Ryan’s presence at the event and singled out his work on veterans’ issues.

“Hopefully now that he holds that position there will be a lot more things being passed in veterans’ favor,” said Brad Behling, an Air Force chief master sergeant and Racine County veterans service officer.

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