(Acknowledgement of introduction, distinguished guests, officers, Legion Members and Auxiliary, and others who are present)
Good morning and welcome. I am grateful when I consider all the places you could be right now, with all that you have planned to do, and the fact that you could still be sleeping this morning, that you have chosen to be here at this place on this last Monday of May.
Today is Memorial Day, and I am deeply honored and feel greatly privileged to be here with you commemorating the sacrifices of those military men and women who have laid down their lives in service to this great nation. Someone once said, “It is the duty of we who remain to make sure those who have fallen are remembered.”
They were devoted to this country, to secure our freedom. They went off to war leaving home and loved ones behind. They knew they might fall but they fought with strength and courage. They served with honor and integrity. Brave men and women gave their lives for the good of others. They knew freedom is not free. They died for you and they died for me. Today we honor their sacrifice.
We live in a time when people are more focused on selfies than on sacrifice, but today you and I stand here in a place where the dead are laid to rest, to remember and to honor the ultimate sacrifice that was paid over there so we can live in freedom here.
General George S. Patton said, “It is wrong to only mourn the death of men like these. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” Today, I thank God that such men and women did live and that there are still such men and women living, who even at this hour volunteer to confront our adversaries abroad so we do not have to face them here at home.
I would like to take a moment and acknowledge any of you among us who have lost loved ones in the line of duty to this country. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed – no words of condolence can even begin to adequately console a survivor’s grief. Those of you who have loved ones serving in any of our Armed Services today, I want you to know that our nation is grateful for their willingness to serve and I pray God would keep them safe and when their time in uniform is over, He would see them safely back home.
God safely brought me back home. During my nearly 10 years of service in the Army, I spent 3 of those years forward deployed overseas. I have never considered myself a hero, but I have been blessed to know and stand alongside some heroes. On days like today, I find myself reflecting on those individuals who so bravely and instinctually risked life and limb in the face of grave danger. And who did not come back home as I did.
The highest and most prestigious personal military decoration is the Medal of Honor. It is only awarded to those military men and women who have distinguished themselves in extreme acts of bravery and valor in the combat theater. From our own Civil War and to today’s Global War on Terrorism, there have been 3,515 Medals of Honor given to our Nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen.
More than 600 have been given posthumously. They were given to loved ones in memory of and in recognition of their selfless sacrifice of their own life to save the lives of their comrades-in-arms.
I think it is fitting today, that we would recall and remember a few of them:
Individuals like Marine Corps Captain James Graham. Graham led a fierce assault on an enemy position in Vietnam in June of 1967 saving his platoon from annihilation, and though wounded himself, chose to stay beside a mortally wounded man while fellow Marines pulled back behind friendly lines. In his last radio transmission, Captain Graham reported he was under assault by a force of 25 enemy soldiers. He died protecting his fellow Marines.
Individuals like Army Sergeant Donn Porter who, facing intense mortar and artillery fire in Korea in September 1952, fixed his bayonet and engaged in close combat after his outpost was attacked by two hostile platoons. Though Sergeant Porter was killed by an artillery burst, his actions thwarted a surprise attack on the main line of resistance and forced the enemy to break engagement.
And individuals like Coast Guard signalman first class Douglas Munro who, during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, volunteered to evacuate a detachment of Marines facing annihilation by enemy forces. Munro maneuvered himself to shield the Marines as they loaded onto boats, exposing himself to enemy fire and sustaining fatal wounds. Munro is the only member of the Coast Guard to have received the Medal of Honor.
These individuals and so many like them live on as some of the most courageous heroes in our history. It is our responsibility to be sure they are never forgotten, and that their actions stay alive in our memories.
However, for most of us who served, we remember those, who even though they may not have received the nation’s highest honor, they nonetheless gave their lives while in uniform and many more were taken from us after as a result of injuries or illness contracted in service.
People like, Army Specialist Katrina Bell-Johnson, a mother of three, who was killed in February 2005 in a vehicle accident in Iraq.
The first American service member killed in combat this year was Army Staff Sgt. Mark R De Alencar, a 37-year-old Green Beret from Maryland, who came under fire in Afghanistan on April 8th.
Navy veteran Jack Crawford, who was serving aboard the USS Yorktown when it was sunk during the Battle of Midway in 1942, once remarked:
“There aren’t many things you can take out of this world…but one thing you can take with you wherever you go, is the consciousness of a duty faithfully performed.”
Such is the way of all of who have served, where so often that ‘duty’ has required them to put their lives on the line.
All the men and women who have given their lives in service to this nation are – undeniably – HEROES. When their country called, they answered. Many volunteered and some were volun-told, but no matter how they found their way into the ranks of the military, each took it upon him or herself to serve faithfully and to their fullest.
This is especially commendable in a nation where so few among our citizens have donned the uniform and accepted the inherent risks. And this alone makes them heroes worthy of remembering.
This is what this last Monday in May is all about – remembering!
As you leave here today, I hope you enjoy this unofficial start to summer, enjoy the cookouts, enjoy time with family and friends, but I would ask that you keep the fallen in your minds and keep their families in your hearts and prayers – for it is their immense collective sacrifices that have helped keep our country safe and free.
You see, freedom and safety are like oxygen, when we have it we don’t think about it. However, when we don’t have it, it’s all we can think of. The patriots remembered today across this country have provided that freedom and safety.
So, as we submit to the will of Him who made us, we pray together the words of Scripture: “Lord, now let thy servants go in peace, Thy Word has been fulfilled.”
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
May we who remain, never forget those who have fallen.
Thank you, may God bless you and keep you, may God bless American and may God bless our fallen Heroes.