The Last Full Measure of Devotion

SAF/PA 2010 Air Force Public Affairs

Memorial Day, 2010

(Note to narrator: If you have the capability to play music at your event, "Taps" is appropriate. Download the .mp3 audio file from theUSAF Band Web site.)

Good (morning, afternoon, evening) ladies and gentlemen, friends, families and veterans - and welcome. Thank you for sharing your time as we remember the men and women of our great country who died while serving in the American military.

Memorial Day is a day to remember; remember our service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country whether in battle, in support of combat operations or having died in the line of duty just doing their jobs. It's also a day to reflect on knowing these sacrifices come because your country's military is protecting our nation and all it stands for, and remains continuously ready to do so. Today is also a day of gratitude. Gratitude for all that was given on our behalf by our fallen Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, knowing they served their country with honor and distinction.

Today (On Memorial Day), we also acknowledge our National Moment of Remembrance, established by Congress in 2000. On this day, Americans everywhere are asked to pause for one minute, at 3 p.m., local time, wherever they are, in an act of national unity. The time 3 p.m. was chosen because it is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday. The Moment does not replace our traditional Memorial Day events; rather it is a time for all Americans, alone or with family and friends, to honor those who died for our freedom. This Moment will help to reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred and noble holiday it was meant to be. In this shared remembrance, we connect in solidarity as Americans.
At this time I'd like to pause for a moment of silence to honor our fallen. 

PAUSE FOR 60 SECONDS

The origin of Memorial Day dates back to the early years following the Civil War. Towns and communities in the North and the South honored fallen war heroes by closing businesses, flying flags at half-staff and draping headstones in cemeteries with flowers in memory and recognition of the brave and courageous who fought in that history-altering war.
Today, 142 years since the first organized Memorial Day, called Decoration Day in 1868, we recognize American patriots -- Airmen -- who gave their lives in service to our country.

While many communities lay claim to the birth of Memorial Day, it was a veterans organization that organized and sought acceptance for the first Decoration Day on May 5, 1868, celebrated then with great fanfare during a large observance held at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from our nation's Capitol, where they placed flowers on the graves of the Civil War dead. 

Over the years, but not until after World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars. Then, in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.

Starting with the American Revolution, to the Civil War; World Wars I and II; Korea, and Vietnam; the Persian Gulf and up to today's operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's military forces have built a tradition of honorable and faithful service to our nation. 

This year's Memorial Day will hold special meaning for the Gold Star parents, families, loved ones and friends of all the Airmen who served and were killed in military operations overseas since last year's observance. 
Allow me to recognize those fallen Airmen, now:

Airman 1st Class Austin Benson died May 3rd (2010) of non-combat related injuries near Khyber, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 54th Combat Communications Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia;

Major Randell Voas, and Senior Master Sergeant James Lackey died April 9th (2010) near Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the CV-22 Osprey they were flying in went down. They were assigned to the 8th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida;

Technical Sergeant Adam Ginett died January 19th (2010) near Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy; 

Senior Airman Bradley Smith died January 3rd (2010) near Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained while supporting combat operations. He was assigned to the 10th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Riley, Kansas.

Since last Memorial Day to the end of 2009 we also lost:

Technical Sergeant Anthony Campbell Jr., to an IED in Afghanistan; 
Technical Sergeant James Hornbarger, as a result of a non-hostile incident in the Mediterranean;

Senior Airman Matthew Courtois, as a result of a non-hostile incident on Abdullah Al Mubarak Airbase, Kuwait;

Staff Sergeant Bryan Berky, to wounds sustained from enemy fire while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan;

1st Lieutenant Joseph Helton to an IED in Iraq;

Captains Thomas Gramith and Mark McDowell in an F-15E crash near Ghazni Province, Afghanistan;

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stratton II and Senior Airman Ashton Goodman to an IED near Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan;

1st Lieutenant Roslyn Schulte to an IED near Kabul, Afghanistan;

Airman 1st Class Jacob Ramsey, in a non-combat related incident in Kabul, Afghanistan;

AND

Technical Sergeant Phillip Myers to an IED near Helmand province, Afghanistan.

As we remember those who most recently gave their lives serving our country, we must also remember the hundreds of thousands who have gone before them. For example:

In March 2010, the Department of Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office located, identified and repatriated Major Curtis Miller 38 years to the month after the AC-130 Spectre gunship he was crewing was shot down in Vietnam; 

And, in January 2010, Major Russell Goodman was repatriated with his family 43 years after the F-4B Phantom he crewed was shot down over North Vietnam.

Our Nation does not forget these Airmen - and the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines -- who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. They are all cared for throughout their final journey home. The Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, is responsible for the return of all Department of Defense personnel from Overseas Contingency Operations and all other overseas deaths. Remains of the fallen are escorted to Dover where a solemn, dignified transfer -- moving the transfer case from an aircraft to a waiting vehicle and then to the port mortuary -- occurs immediately upon arrival. This movement is sanctified by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member's respective service. A dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country. The fallen member is then prepared with great care and compassion for their final journey home to their family and loved ones.

The families of the fallen are not forgotten, either. In January (2010), the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, dedicated the new Center for Families of the Fallen at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center.
"This center is one manifestation of our fidelity to properly honor our fallen and care for the families, so that when families from all over the country come to receive their loved ones for the last time, they do so in a place that befits their grief, and can begin to offer them comfort, support, and the sincere thanks of a grateful nation," General Schwartz said.

And on the first of this month (May 1, 2010), Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, General Schwartz, and Ken Fisher, Fisher House Foundation chairman, participated in a special groundbreaking ceremony for a Fisher House on Dover Air Force Base that will provide free on-base lodging to families who travel to Dover to witness the dignified transfer of their loved one. When this house opens this Fall it will include a meditation pavilion and garden to provide some measure of comfort and peace of mind to the families of the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who gave -- in the words of Abraham Lincoln - "the last full measure of devotion," to our country.

Today, we should actively remember our heritage and heroes, our family members, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our friends who have given the ultimate sacrifice or lost a loved one. 

So, on this, and every Memorial Day, we must never forget the meaning of Memorial Day and remember those proud patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of liberty's blessings. Thank you.