"Thank you Col. Behunin for the introduction – and my thanks to all of you for joining us here today. My talk is dedicated to the sons and daughters of this nation who made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives while in military service to their country. I also acknowledge the sacrifice of families of the fallen. To all of them and to our veterans who have served and those still serving we express our profound gratitude.
A little history on Memorial Day - It was originally called Decoration Day. On May 5, 1866 - Residents of Waterloo, New York, observed a Memorial Day in honor of all who died during the Civil War. Businesses were closed and soldiers' graves were decorated. 1868 - General John Alexander Logan officially proclaimed May 30, 1868, as Memorial Day in honor of the Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. Until after World War I, southern states celebrated a separate Memorial Day in honor of the Confederate dead. In 1971 - Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. On December 28, 2000 President Bill Clinton signed the "National Moment of Remembrance Act," which designated 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance.
A little history on my military background.
My decision to serve my country occurred when I was just a young boy. Our family had a legacy of military service. Although my father passed when I was only four, I was aware that he served as a Captain and flight surgeon in the Army Air-Corps in occupied Japan during WW II. My grandfather served as an Infantryman in WWI France and carried the burden of the hardships experienced in that place for the rest of his life. He never spoke of his experiences – but he did share his commitment to duty, honor, freedom and love of country. I determined early on that I too would serve my country.
As a student of history, I came to understand that our founding fathers commitment to the principle’s of liberty and self determination placed us on a course that led to inevitably to war with the strongest nation with the largest Army and most powerful Navy on the planet. They paid an immeasurable price in blood and treasure to secure a free nation for later generations. Our founding fathers braved to seek to do nothing short of the impossible. The monarchs and aristocracies across the world scoffed at the news of our declaration of independence. The odds were completely against us, and yet, here we are.
From the unifying struggle of a newly forged nation, through sacrifice and uniquely American style grit, a love of country and patriotism emerged that has become a cornerstone of our national sense of self.
Later generations answered the call to defend the nation our values and to fight against tyranny and oppression. My grandfather in WWI and my father in WWII went forth with their generation to defend our hard-won liberty. The sacrifices of their generations were indescribable and even as a youth I felt a personal and profound sense of gratitude and obligation to them. I felt that I had a personal duty to earn the blessings of liberty that those previous generations had purchased for me.
I once saw a movie, who has seen Saving Private Ryan? Movies can capture a concept or idea in a way that sometimes nothing else can. The movie opens with the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Cpt. Miller (played by Tom Hanks) fight ashore to secure a beachhead. Amidst the fighting, two brothers are killed in action. Earlier in New Guinea, a third brother is KIA. Their mother, Mrs. Ryan, is to receive all three of the grave telegrams on the same day. The United States Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, is given an opportunity to alleviate some of her grief when he learns of a fourth brother, Private James Ryan, and decides to send out 8 men (Cpt. Miller) and select members from 2nd Rangers) to find him and bring him back home to his mother... In the course of finding Private Ryan, Cpt. Miller and his team help Ryan to defend a bridge that could turn the tide of battle and in doing so, nearly Cpt. Millers entire squad is killed. Leaving Ryan and a mortally wounded Cpt. Miller as American reinforcements arrive – dying, Cpt. Miller says something to Ryan that he can’t hear. Ryan says what did you say? Cpt. Miller whispers it again, finally pulling Ryan in close enough to hear – Cpt. Miler says “earn this” – Did you have a lump in your throat when you heard it? I did and that is the same feeling I have had all my life when I ponder the sacrifices made for me by previous generations.
I began participating with the United State’s Army Delayed Entry Program at the age of 13. I was not a contracted member of the program yet, but the recruiters did not care. When other young men were going to scout camp, I was going to the M16 range and Land Navigation course. By the time I turned 17 and graduated high school I was well acquainted with the individual soldier tasks that I would learn in Basic Training. In 1985 I enlisted in the US Army and attended One Station Unit Training at the United States Army’s Armor Center at Ft. Knox Kentucky. For three months I underwent Basic Combat Training and became an Armor Crewman on an M60 A-3 Main Battle Tank. Upon graduation I went on to report to my duty station at Ft. Benning Georgia. My Army career would span a period of 28 years from start to finish – with service as both an enlisted soldier and commissioned officer. This afforded me opportunities to serve in a wide range of positions including; armor crewman (tank gunner), paratrooper, drill sergeant, basic combat training executive officer and company commander and culminating as battalion operations officer.
In 2004 I was notified that I was to be assigned to an Army Reserve 565th Movement Control Team headquartered at Ft. Bragg NC – task assigned to the 1st COSCOM of the 82nd Airborne and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for a period of one year (minimum). Although I was world-wide deployable, upon reporting to Ft. Bragg I needed to dramatically improve my personal physical readiness. On day one I began running Ft. Bragg’s back roads – I had two months to get into top condition before deploying.
My experience in Iraq was unequivocal. The kind of life experience that leaves no doubt about the incredible blessings we take for granted in our day-to-day life here in America. When I was there I experienced a land of extremes – extreme violence, extremes in environment and extremes in social and political division. I also witnessed American soldiers serving their country with extreme professionalism and commitment while enduring indescribable temperatures and environments. Time and again I observed soldiers going above and beyond the call of duty, working 24 – 36 hours straight providing gun truck security to combat logistical convoys and exposing themselves to great risk to achieve mission objectives.
My team was spread out across Iraq from North to South and I had team members operating in Kuwait.
Of course while serving in Iraq I experienced the loss of soldiers around me and will forever carry the memory of each of them. We honor them and their sacrifice here today.
From time to time I hear someone express the idea that patriotism is dead in America and I can tell you that it remains strong in the hearts of America’s sons and daughters in uniform.
I am grateful to you for coming here today, to this sacred place to join us in honoring our fallen heroes. I hope that each of you can appreciate the extent of their sacrifice. Freedom is not free – YOUR freedom did not come free. Someone else had to pay the price.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I’m grateful to have shared the events of this day with you as we honor our and remember our fallen heroes and extend our thanks to those who have served, those who still serve and the families who support them. God bless you and god bless America!"