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SAF/PA 2007 Air Force Public Affairs
Memorial Day, 2007
This is a day of remembrance. This is a day of honor. This is a day of thanks.
On this Memorial Day, we remember, honor, and give thanks to those who died in service to this nation. Today, we honor all of the brave men and women of our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the freedom we hold so dear.
Americans officially proclaimed Memorial Day, originally called Decorations Day, in May of 1868, following the end of the American Civil War. It was not until 1971, however, that Congress passed the National Holiday Act designating the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. This day has been set aside for us to honor those who have fallen in service to their country and decorate their graves with flags.
In his proclamation for the original Memorial Day in 1868, General John Logan declared that "no vandalism of avarice or neglect, [nor] ravages of time [should] testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided public." Let this day serve as proof that we have not forgotten, and let this day be a promise that we will never forget.
Today, we must remember that we are a nation and an Air Force at war. Our Airmen have been engaged in combat operations for more than 15 years, from the Persian Gulf War to the present conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 3,000 young men and women have given their lives in the cause for freedom, and we add their names, with great sorrow, to the stacks of ledgers that record the names of every lost Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman. These courageous individuals stood toe to toe with our adversaries, offering themselves as shields for America to keep war from reaching our front door. Each of them knew what their duty was, but surely each of them also dreamed of coming home to the people they loved and the lives they cherished. We are forever in their debt for putting themselves in harm's way so that we may live in peace; we are in the debt of young fighters like the Tuskegee Airmen who gave their lives in World War II.
This year marks the 65th Anniversary of the first group of Tuskegee Airmen to successfully complete training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. These men contended with overt bigotry at home to fight for freedom abroad. While protecting our homeland against the Axis forces, 66 of these men gave their lives. The outstanding record of America's first African American military airmen in World War II was accomplished by men whose names will forever lie in hallowed memory. Each one accepted the challenge and proudly displayed his skill and determination while enduring senseless cruelty born of racism and bigotry.
This year also marks the 65th Anniversary of the raid on Japan during World War II by the Doolittle Raiders. At a time when America's morale had slumped from numerous Japanese successes, the brilliant strike by these men boosted American morale and served as a critical turning point in the war. The Doolittle Raiders attacked Japan knowing they would not have enough fuel to return to their designated airfields. One by one, they ditched at sea, bailed out, or crash-landed in China. Though most safely reached friendly forces with the help of the Chinese, several lost their lives that day.
Stories like those of the fallen Tuskegee Airmen and Doolittle Raiders fill the annals of military history. Some of these stories are well known, and others are known only to those who served along side them. These stories are testimony to the courage, professionalism, and sheer determination with which our men and women carry out their duties.
Today, we are faced with the grim reality that the number of fatalities in the War on Terror has surpassed that of the September 11th attacks. But our mission remains steadfast: supporting the Iraqi people and their armed forces in their battle with insurgents, so that a free and stable government can take root and survive.
Every loss is a loss to our nation, a loss to our military, and, most importantly, a loss to the families who grieve. As we gather to honor the memories of the fallen, a piece of us struggles to understand the meaning of such sacrifice and loss. But when we look up and see our flag, our banner of freedom, soaring high; when we see our children playing innocently in the streets; practice the faith of our choice; when we head to the polls without threat of violence and take part in the democratic process; when we exercise any of the freedoms we possess, we are reminded of that meaning.
We are not able to return each of the fallen to their families or erase the pain their loved ones suffer. We can only show our gratitude and hope that the anguish of these families is tempered by the knowledge that their loved ones died for a noble cause. Today, we say, "Thank you," to families like that of Major Troy Gilbert.
Major Troy Gilbert's life epitomized the core values of "Service before self." On the day he died, Major Gilbert led a flight of two F-16s in an aerial combat mission near Taji, Iraq. On the ground, insurgents were unleashing truck-mounted heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortars to attack coalition troops. In addition, a downed Army helicopter crew was in danger of being overrun. Engaging the enemy meant certain anti-aircraft fire for Major Gilbert, but despite the danger, he went after the insurgents.
Despite enemy fire, Major Gilbert continued to press the insurgents with a strafing pass at extreme low-level to help save the lives of the helicopter crew and other ground forces. He lost his life on that strafing pass when his aircraft hit the ground.
Major Gilbert's final act of moral and physical courage was conducted selflessly, just as his family said he'd always lived his life.
Our men and women in uniform are our most powerful line of defense in the current conflict against terrorists and extremists. They come from all across America and have answered the call to duty. As they depart from our shores, we are hopeful that they will come home again, but we know that some of them will not return. It is our responsibility to make sure that those that do not return are not forgotten.
On this Memorial Day, at 3 p.m., wherever you are, be sure to pause and participate in the National Moment of Remembrance established by Congress. This is a moment of reflection and an opportunity to demonstrate your gratitude for those who died for us.
Let's continue to make sure these heroes are never forgotten--on this day and every day.