Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important commemoration on this most important day. To our veterans, of wars past and present, who are here today; those of us on active duty today are humbled to be in your presence, and we are proud to carry on your legacy and the tradition of your service. To the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, indeed all friends and loved ones of America's fallen who are here today; we stand in awe of their selflessness, of their sacrifice, and of the strength you have shown in all the days and hours since their untimely passing. This is the day we remember with you, and share with you some of that burden. To our friends and guests, especially the children, who are with us today, thank you for coming. It is your recognition, understanding and support that will keep the spirit and sanctity of Memorial Day alive as the decades bring the living memories of past, present and future struggles to an end. Truly, we all have important parts to play in each and every Memorial Day.
What does Memorial Day mean? I know it sounds a bit like a grade school essay question, but I'm not sure the answer is so simple. A quarter century ago, on 31 May 1982, President Ronald Reagan said,
I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them.Like President Reagan, I also had trouble finding words for today that justly serve those whom we memorialize today. But unlike President Reagan, I do not have a speech writer. And so I pressed on, and hope I have found the words.
Today is about each and every one of the more than one million American warriors since 1775 who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals, for their nation, and for their comrades.
And American warriors they were. Americans. First and foremost. American men and women who, by their very character, valued their own inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And whether through a sense of obligation, necessity, or opportunity, each chose to defend those rights and ideals that are the fabric of our republic. Though two centuries have changed the technology, tools, doctrine, places and very nature of war, the American men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Global War on Terrorism in places like Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, and the mountains of Afghanistan are indeed cut from the same cloth as those who fell in the Mekong Delta, at Inchon, Normandy, Midway, at Belleau Wood, and Gettysburg.
Soon, a list of war dead from your township will be read – your fallen American warriors from years past. A similar American, from today's war, was Petty Officer Second Class Michael A. Monsoor, of Garden Grove, California. A United States Navy SEAL, Petty Officer Monsoor joined the Navy just months before September 11th 2001 and would have turned 27 last month. Instead, President Bush presented his parents with his Congressional Medal of Honor for selflessly diving on a hand grenade to save his teammates during a firefight in Ramadi on 29 September 2006. During the afternoon when his unit had been attacked twice already and were expecting more action, Petty Officer Monsoor was in his position awaiting the enemy when a grenade hurled by an unseen insurgent bounced off him and landed on the floor of his sniper hide-sight. Though he was closest to the exit and could have escaped harm, he instead warned his teammates and immediately dove on the grenade, saving their lives and sacrificing his own in the process.
Now most people, myself included, do not know Petty Officer Monsoor, nor any others among the 4600 American warriors, these heroes, who have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9-11. But we need to understand them today, like we need to understand all who have made the same sacrifice before them. They are not 4600 in the Global War on Terrorism, 380 in Desert Storm, 57,000 in Vietnam, 36,000 in Korea, 405,000 in World War II and so forth back through history. Each is, in himself or herself, a singular loss of unfathomable magnitude, and each is reason to take pause.
But at the same time, each is a singular testament to America's greatest strength – our citizens – who believe in the ideals of liberty and equality – for all and above all. We must never forget or lose sight of the strength that they represent. The strength that has carried our nation through its darkest times and will carry us through this and future struggles. That strength is us.
I would like to conclude by reading from General Order Number Eleven of the Grand Army of the Republic, the proclamation that established Decoration Day, the day that eventually became Memorial Day, 140 years ago.
We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold inthe solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland
the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
Thank you, and best wishes for a blessed and reflective Memorial Day.