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Memorial Day

SAF/PA 2009 Air Force Public Affairs

Memorial Day, 2009

(Editor's note: This speech as provided is approximately 13-15 minutes in duration)

Let's begin with a moment of silence or prayer for the fallen and for those who continue to serve. 

(During the silence the orator reads:) Watch over America's sons and daughters; husbands and wives; fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters as they serve. Bring them home safely to their loved ones. Wrap your loving arms around the wounded, and bring to your side the ones who have lost their lives. Let their loved ones know peace of mind and spirit from the pain of having lost those who were so dear to them. Let their children gain wisdom as they grow to learn the sacrifices of their parents. 

President Franklin Roosevelt said, "Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy, forget in time that men have died to win them." With the hectic lives we lead today, it might be easy to think of Memorial Day as merely a three-day weekend. 

It's much more than that. It is a time for our Nation to reflect -- to remember and honor the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Mariners ... and civilians ... who made the ultimate sacrifice defending or supporting our great country, its interests and its ideals. Memorial Day is an opportunity for Americans to pay homage to those who died serving our Nation and acknowledge the immense debt we owe them and the families and loved ones they left behind who you know remember them this and every day.

From our humble beginnings as a nation to our current status as a superpower, the men and women of this great country have never hesitated to answer the call to defend our Nation against its enemies, giving their all to preserve the freedoms we hold dear. But it wasn't until after our Civil War that we began formally recognizing our fallen with a national holiday. Since its inception in 1868, Memorial Day has become one of our Nation's most important holidays.

The story of Memorial Day began almost 150 years ago, in the summer of 1865, when a local druggist, Henry Welles, mentioned to some of his friends at a gathering that while praising the living veterans of the Civil War, "It would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves." Nothing became of this suggestion until he renewed the idea the following spring to Army Gen. John Murray. 

General Murray himself was a Civil War hero and intensely patriotic. He supported the idea completely and marshaled veterans' support. Plans were developed for a more complete celebration by a local citizen's committee headed by Mr. Welles and General Murray. 

On May 5th, 1866, the village was decorated with flags at half staff, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans, civic societies and residents, led by General Murray, marched to the strains of music to the three village cemeteries. One year later, on May 5th, 1867, the ceremonies were repeated. 

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30th, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War Soldiers. Army Gen. John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the veterans' organization, Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30th as Decoration Day by General Order 11 on May 5th, 1868. This was two years after the 1866 commemoration in Waterloo, New York. By Congressional proclamation in 1966, Waterloo was cited as the birthplace of Memorial Day a hundred years earlier. 

After World War I, the day came to be observed in honor of those who had died in all U.S. wars. It was renamed Memorial Day. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May. 

Memorial Day is traditionally observed with the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia; a wreath laying at the Air Force Memorial, also in Arlington near our Nations Capitol, and by religious services, parades and speeches nationwide. Flags, insignia and flowers are placed on the graves of veterans in local cemeteries.

This day also marks the National Moment of Remembrance. Established by Congress, this sliver of time sets aside a moment for all Americans, wherever they are at 3 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day, to pause in an act of national unity. The Moment does not replace traditional Memorial Day events - rather, it is a time - a minute -- for all to honor and respect those who died for our freedom. In this shared moment of remembrance, we connect as Americans -- wherever you are. 

Since the Revolutionary War, American military members have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we hold dear today. 

During the Revolutionary War, we lost more than 25,000 freedom seekers who fought for their independence from Great Britain. America lost more than a half a million of her own during the Civil War; 525,000 Americans died in World Wars I and II; while an additional 54,000 and 58,000 brave Americans perished during the Korean and Vietnam wars. 

Today, we honor these Americans who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we hold near and dear today. We also honor those who voluntarily give up their time to be with their families as they serve our nation in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom this "three-day weekend."

Today, our Nation is at war, once again pitting our most precious resource - our sons and daughters - in a global fight against enemies whose fanatical ideals threaten our very way of life. 

Today, more than 27,000 Airmen are deployed around the world, waging the war and fulfilling vital roles in the joint, interdependent fight. Whether at home or abroad, our Airmen give the Air Force the unique ability for 24-hour global mobility and engagement; to hold any target set at risk, in any weather or threat environment, anywhere in the world, to command and control our activities, and to assess our effects. 

Our selfless Airmen give our Nation the exceptional strategic warfighting capabilities of Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power, so our Airmen can fly, fight and win on and over the battlefields where they serve.

On this Memorial weekend, take the time to remember our predecessors' sacrifices. Consider the legacy of valor and courage left to us by the Airmen of the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I and the 8th Air Force during World War II. Remember the Airmen who fought and died in the skies over MiG Alley in Korea, and the Airmen who endured heavy losses flying F-105s over the jungles of Vietnam. Remember the Airmen we've lost most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abraham Lincoln said, "The mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart ... should swell into a mighty chorus of remembrance, gratitude and rededication on this solemn occasion."

Let's honor those who've paved the way for our freedoms and for those who continue to serve. Let's honor those we've lost in the current wars. 

As of May 21, 2009, 4,299 servicemembers have paid the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Iraqi Freedom and 682 have died in Operation Enduring Freedom. 

Let us pay special tribute to the Airmen we lost this year supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Senior Airman Omar J. McKnight, 22, of Marrero, Louisiana, died January 17th as a result of a non-hostile incident at Balad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 6th Security Forces Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. 

Staff Sgt. Timothy P. Davis, 28, from Aberdeen, Washington, died February 20th, at Oruzgan, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 23d Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida. 

Staff Sgt. Timothy L. Bowles, 24, from Tucson, Arizona, died March 15th near Kot (pronounced "coat"), Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 3rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. 

Senior Airman Jacob I. Ramsey, 20, of Hesperia, California, died April 10th in Kabul (pronounced "cobble"), Afghanistan, of injuries sustained in a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 712th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Hood, Texas. 

Tech. Sgt. Phillip A. Myers, 30, of Hopewell, Virginia, died April 4th near Helmand Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom. 

And, 1st Lt. Roslyn L. Schulte, 25, of St. Louis, died just last Wednesday (May 13, 2009) near Kabul, Afghanistan of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device. She was assigned to the Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces Command, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. 

They will be missed.

This year, the dignified transfer of our fallen heroes was revealed to the public for the first time since 1991 when Sergeant Myers, mentioned a moment ago, arrived at the Dover Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. The special care and deep respect we in uniform paid to our fallen brother was witnessed by the media and shared by his family. The media brought to light to the American public the care we take for our fallen as they are returned home to American soil - as the dignified transfer team delicately transfers their remains to the mortuary ... as they are prepared for their last journey home to their families. 

These Airmen served with distinction and honor. They are heroes to us all. As we remember those who we have lost, let us offer a "Thank You" for their sacrifice -- a "Thank You" to their families for all they have sacrificed as well. They offered their sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers for service to the nation and its allies throughout the world. Their sacrifice does not go unnoticed by our nation, or by the people for whom our heroes shed their very lifeblood to protect and defend.

While Memorial Day is known as a time of remembrance, it is also a time for us in uniform to reaffirm our own commitment of selfless service. By doing so, we not only honor the memory of those before us, but also vow to carry on the legacy of excellence in the world's best military force.

Heed President Roosevelt's warning and never forget the brave men and women who died to earn us our privileged "American way of life." We will never forget them, and we'll never forget your efforts to keep this Nation free. As a grateful Nation pays tribute to our brothers and sisters in-arms who gave their last full measure for their country, we thank you for your service, hard work and dedication , and all you do every day to fly, fight and win for America.

Please take a moment of silence sometime today (or on Memorial Day) to pay your respects. 
Thank you.