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Recognizing Those Who Gave Their Lives

SAF/PA 2008 Air Force Public Affairs

Memorial Day, 2008

This year we recognize those American patriots who gave their lives as our nation observes the 140th anniversary of Memorial Day - a holiday that was originally known as Decoration Day. 

While many communities lay claim to the birth of Memorial Day, it was the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, who proclaimed Decoration Day May 5, 1868. It was proclaimed as a day for citizens to place flowers on the graves of Civil War dead. The nation's first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C. 

By the end of the 19th century, Decoration Day ceremonies were held across the country on May 30. It was not until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. Then, in 1971 Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday. 

Memorial Day differs vastly from Veterans Day and the recently celebrated Armed Forces Day. Veterans Day pays tribute to every Veteran who has served our great nation, while Armed Forces Day recognizes those serving today. 

Starting with the American Revolution, to the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and today's operations in the war on terror, America's military forces have built a tradition of honorable and faithful service. This year's Memorial Day has special meaning for the loved ones of all the Airmen who were killed in combat since last year's observance. They include the families and friends of Technical Sergeant Anthony L. Capra, Staff Sergeant Travis L. Griffin and Technical Sergeant William H. Jefferson Jr. 

Technical Sergeant Capra, who was awarded a Bronze Star for an earlier deployment to Iraq, was killed April 9 in Iraq from wounds suffered when he encountered an improvised explosive device. Technical Sergeant Capra, who was 31, was an explosive ordnance technician assigned to Detachment 63 of the 688th Armament Systems Squadron, Indian Head City, Maryland. 

Despite knowing the dangers of serving in Iraq, 28-year-old Staff Sergeant Griffin volunteered to serve a year-long deployment there to train Iraqi police officer. The security forces technician died April 3 near Baghdad from wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 377th Security Forces Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Technical Sergeant Jefferson, who was 34, died March 22 in Afghanistan when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device during his third tour of the Middle East. He was a combat controller with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, and had served in the Marine Corps for four years before joining the Air Force in 1996. 

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

It is interesting to note that America's war dead will not only be remembered today in the United States, but also at gatherings around the globe. One long-running overseas ceremony is in Cambridge, England. 

Even though the United Kingdom doesn't officially have Memorial Day - it has Remembrance Day in November -- hundreds of English citizens will attend an American Memorial Day service today at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery. 

They come to honor the more than 3,800 Americans who are buried there on land donated by Cambridge University in 1944. The site is one of 14 permanent American World War II military cemeteries on foreign soil. 

The graves are mostly filled with the remains of those Army Air Forces men who flew bombers from the English countryside to the European mainland. 

Dedicated in 1956 by President Eisenhower, the Cambridge American Military Cemetery features a chapel, reflecting pools and a Wall of the Missing, where the names and particulars of more than 5,100 people are etched. Of the missing, 3,524 are from the Army and Army Air Forces, 1,371 from the Navy, 201 from the Coast Guard and 30 from the Marine Corps. 

At a Memorial Day service at the Cambridge cemetery a few years ago, an elderly Englishman came up to Senior Master Sergeant Matt Proietti, an Air Force Reservist on temporary duty there from his unit in California. The elderly gentleman saw the blue suit of an American Airman and had something to say. 

"When you return to your country, take with you our eternal thanks," the old man said. With a lump in his throat, Senior Master Sergeant Proietti shook the man's hand and offered his own thanks for the man's kindness at sharing those remarks. 

President Eisenhower said the Americans whose names are on the Wall of the Missing were part of the price that free men were forced to pay to defend human liberty and rights. 

"All who shall hereafter live in freedom will be here reminded that to these men and their comrades we owe a debt to be paid with grateful remembrance of their sacrifice and high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live eternally," he said. 

Airmen have an Airman's Creed that remembers all of our fallen Airmen -- those who died before the Air Force even became a separate service from the Army up to those we have lost this year. I would like to share our Airman's Creed: 

"I am American Airman 

I am a warrior 

I have answered my Nation's Call. 

I am an American Airman 

My mission is to fly, fight and win 

I am faithful to a proud heritage 

A tradition of honor 

And a legacy of valor 

I am an American Airman 

Guardian of Freedom and Justice 

My Nation's Sword and Shield 

Its sentry and avenger 

I defend my country with my life. 

I am American Airman 

Wingman, Leader, Warrior 

I will never leave an Airman behind 

I will never falter, and 

I will not fail." 

Today, we should actively remember our ancestors, our family members, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our friends who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Memorial Day can be observed in many ways. 

To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day." the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed in December 2000 which asks that on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listen to TAPS. 

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.