HomeSpeakersSpeech ArchiveVeterans Day 2010

Veterans Day

SAF/PA 2010 Air Force Public Affairs

Veterans Day, 2010



As I begin today, I want to welcome and acknowledge all of the veterans in the audience and thank you for your service to our country. Whether you served 1 day, 1 year or 30 years,1 many of you made the conscious decision to volunteer your life - and the lives of your family members - to be part of the greater whole; to don the uniform of your service and serve in your nation's military. And if you are a veteran here today but were initially inducted into your Service by a military draft, by virtue of being in the audience today you, too, have a deep-rooted sense of duty and integrity found only in those few Americans who have lived the military way of life.

I also want to take a moment to recognize all of our nation's former prisoners of war (in the audience today) and thank you. Thank you for your service to our country; thank you for enduring and surviving captivity; and thank you for coming back to your family, loved ones and friends who certainly must have suffered in their own way not knowing your fate during your excruciating absence from home.

At this time I ask you all to take just a moment during our celebration today honoring our Veterans to remind ourselves we still have more than 84,000 brave service members missing or unaccounted for on the rolls at the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office. D-P-M-O is responsible for establishing and overseeing policies on the rescue of living Americans and the recovery of the remains of those who are missing in action from foreign battlefields. The United States government is committed to obtaining the fullest possible accounting for Americans held captive or otherwise missing from our nation's ongoing and past conflicts, to prepare and train personnel who may become isolated and to recover those who become missing in the future.2 Please keep our missing heroes, and their families, in your thoughts and prayers.


Thank you. 

On November 11th, 1918, Americans and allies across the globe effectively brought to an end World War I when Marshal Ferdinand Foch (pronounced Fosh), supreme commander of the Allied armies, met with Germany's government representative for the signing of an Armistice at 11 a.m. in a railway carriage in a French forest near the Western Front (Compiègne [kɔ̃pjɛɲ] Forest, France).3Some historians claim the last American killed during what President Woodrow Wilson declared was "a war to end war"4 was Private Henry Gunther,5 who died charging German troops 60 seconds before the 11th hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. 

A year later, President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. President Wilson said, "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations...."6 

The original concept for how we recognize Veterans Day today was for a day observed with parades and public meetings, and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. on November 11th, to honor veterans of World War I. The federal holiday we recognize today was approved by Congress in 1938 but it wasn't until 1954, following World War II and the Korean War, that Congress replaced "Armistice" with "Veterans," amending the original Act to commemorate November 11th as a day in America when veterans of all wars are honored.7 

So, today, we come together to honor and recognize all of our American service members past and present, and salute you for your service to our country, both in uniform and out.

I can cite many examples about the feats our veterans, both in uniform and out, but I'll just highlight a few recent examples recognized and acknowledged by our Air Force, the Department of Defense and a community in which a veteran lives.

On June 22nd, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, while traveling in Southwest Asia, presented a Purple Heart and an Air Force Combat Action Medal to Senior Airman Brian Willard, and an Air Force Combat Action Medal to Senior Airman Trent Cichy, both vehicle operators assigned to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia. Airman Willard was injured in May when the supply convoy they were on was hit by an improvised explosive device.8 

On April 29th, General Schwartz pinned three Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, three Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts on 11 combat controllers from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron for their actions during various deployments to Afghanistan, during a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. Two of the Silver Stars were presented to a single Airman, Staff Sgt. Sean Harvell, for essentially placing himself in harm's way on multiple confrontations with the enemy and aiding in the recovery of service members and sensitive equipment from the field of battle. "It is truly a pleasure to be among these great Airmen," General Schwartz said. "Integrity, service, and excellence are embodied in every heroic action we celebrate here today." The ceremony recognized these "exceptional Airmen," as the general called them, who "accomplished enormous feats without very much fanfare or pageantry" alongside Army, Navy and Marine Corps special operations forces.9 

... "Without very much fanfare or pageantry!" - More like modesty. At his ceremony Sergeant Harvell gave an almost "aw, shucks!" response to being recognized for doing his job when he said, "I feel kind of guilty [for taking up the General's time], because there are so many other guys out there doing the same thing every day."

That's probably how Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger felt atop one of the tallest mountains in Laos on March 11th, 1968 - just doing his job. A ground radar superintendent during the Vietnam War, Chief Etchberger and a small team of fellow Airmen manned a tiny classified radar station guiding aircraft to targets in North Vietnam. Chief Etchberger died that day, but not before single-handedly staving off the enemy and saving the lives of at least three Airmen. For his heroic feat, President Obama posthumously awarded Chief Etchberger our nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, on September 21st, 2010.10 

And just one more example of how our nation now honors veterans:

Looking to years' past, two Veterans long lost, but not forgotten, were reunited with their families just two weeks ago, when the Department of Defense's Joint POW and Missing Personnel Office announced that Army Air Forces staff sergeants Claude A. Ray, 24, of Coffeyville, Kansas, and Claude G. Tyler, 24, of Landover, Maryland, both missing in action from World War II, were identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. 

The two Airmen, along with 10 other crew members, were ordered to carry out a reconnaissance mission in their B-24D Liberator, taking off from an airfield near Port Moresby, New Guinea, 67 years ago, on October 27, 1943. During their mission they were directed to land at a friendly air strip. They never made it. Six decades later a local citizen reported a crash site in New Guinea where the remains of Ray and Tyler were eventually recovered.11 

Many of you here today probably have your own stories to tell of valiant unsung heroes, formerly recognized or not, that you know, or have known over the years. Some may call them war stories but others, still, may call them living history. 

Regardless, I don't think it too presumptuous to say that we who still wear the uniform of our military, and all who came before us, serve or served this country out of a profound sense of duty - and with honor - and with the understanding that the freedoms we have today are secured through our commitment; and those freedoms have been secured by those who came forward and served before us; and it is our hope - no, our expectation-that those who will selflessly volunteer to serve in our nation's military in the future will continue to protect our great nation. 

Many of you still today serve our nation out of uniform through continued Department of Defense civilian employment, volunteering at military installations, showing your support to our military at ports of embarkation and debarkation, running a small business and hiring Veterans, or expressing your final respect at the gravesides of our military fallen. You do these things out of DutyHonor andCountry.

And talking about honoring veterans: In August, the Palm Beach Post news outlet in Florida ran an expose about an Air Force veteran, David Pate, who owns and operates a small textile shop that makes clothing items for the mixed martial arts. Pate started his company in 2005 and only hires veterans. What's interesting about Pate is that according to the article he served in the Air Force in the first and second Gulf Wars and in Bosnia, and he was a homeless Vet. Now he owns his own business and employs former service members."12 

Very simply, we serve - in or out of uniform - out of our commitment to the values of dedication and sacrifice. We serve because it is an honor.13 

General George Washington said in 1789, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation."14 


As the world changes around us, and as the Air Force evolves to meet the challenges presented in our future, some things endure: such as the need for our Air Force and sister services to counter threats to our Nation and our way of life ... and the dedication of our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who stand watch to that end. 

Also unchanged is our Air Force's most solemn obligation to care for our service members -- particularly, our wounded warriors--and their families. In fact, our leadership has embraced this as one of their top priorities, to Develop and care for Airmen and their families.

This bond transcends the respect and admiration that active duty Airmen have for those who came before them, and our veterans' appreciation for the valiant efforts of our service members who currently serve.

This bond also unites us in the common interest and shared imperative of strengthening support for military members and their families--past, present, and future - for it is to both our benefit, active duty members and veterans alike, to ensure the successes of our Air Force.

It is no surprise that Air Force veterans and your families perceive this need. Veterans are "still serving" by volunteering hundreds of thousands of hours, serving communities at bases worldwide, still exemplifying our Core Value, Service before Self, through your shared time, dedication , and I'm sure, a story or two.

We too owe veterans both our gratitude and our support.

We all continue to work together to provide adequate, appropriate and well-deserved care and support for our Airmen who eventually will join the ranks of our veterans no longer actively serving. 

We also continue to develop and care for Airmen and their families to ensure that when their time comes to don civilian clothes, we can provide them and their families with the highest level of care and support as veterans that they will have so richly deserved - as you, the veteran deserves.

These were the hallmarks of the Air Force when you, our veterans, all served, and they remain so today. 

But, one of the main differences in our Air Force today than when many of you served is ... we are an expeditionary Air Force. Our Air Force is leaner and more agile today to meet the challenges our leadership asks us to perform.

Today, 39,000 Airmen are deployed to 260 locations across the globe - an additional 130,000 Airmen support combatant command operations from their home stations defending our nation and defending our nation's interests abroad. "While our operations tempo is high, our Nation's Airmen continue to set the standard for excellence. We are continuously reminded of the courage, commitment, and sacrifice (that our Airmen) offer on a daily basis."15 

Our Airmen partner with the Joint and coalition team to win today's fight. Their contributions span the entire spectrum, from precision strike; airlift and air mobility; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; to more non-traditional roles such as convoy and installation security, disposing of improvised explosive devices, and reconstructing war- or disaster-torn societies. 

Other mission areas such as battlefield medical support, casualty evacuation, high-end personnel rescue and recovery, and Joint Tactical Air Control, put Airmen in the thick of the fight.
Our Air Force continually modernizes aging air and space inventories, organizations, and training. Our Airmen today provide space-based communications, precision navigation and timing, and early warning; and, they vigilantly operate, maintain, and secure two of our Nation's three legs of the nuclear triad as we continue to strengthen the Air Force nuclear enterprise. 

And we strive to recapture acquisition excellence in our efforts to acquire new air refueling platforms and fifth generation fighters.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea: our Airmen today perform very capably, admirably, and with the utmost commitment - as you, our veterans, did in your time in uniform.

When today's Air Force is hailed for its merit, you -- the veterans, spouses, extended family members and friends-- share in that praise because of the foundation of success that you helped to establish in our Airmen. 

Now, these Airmen are your legacy, ladies and gentlemen--the results of the leadership, loyalty, and innovation of your years of honorable service. 

So, on Veterans Day, we all share a unique perspective of faithful service to our country and to those who have served before us. We call each other to give thanks for one another and for the time we have together; to pay tribute to those we have lost, and to say prayers for those serving in foreign lands.16 

Today is Veterans Day - and, today, I salute you on behalf of a grateful nation.

Thank you.

1Title 38, United States Code -- Veterans' Benefits, Part I, Chapter 1, § 101, (2) The term "veteran" means a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable. (
2Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (; Armistice with Germany (
4The American Pageant, 12th Edition, David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas A. Bailey, Ch 31, The War to End War, 1917-1918, American Public University (; and; Woodrow Wilson (
5World War I: Wasted Lives on Armistice Day (; and; Armistice with Germany (
6History of Veterans Day, Department of Veterans Affairs (
7History of Veterans Day, Department of Veterans Affairs (
8AFNS story: Air Force chief of staff presents combat decorations, addresses 386th Airmen during visit; posted June 24, 2010 (
9AFNS story: Combat controllers contributions honored in ceremony; posted April 30, 2010 (
10AFNS story: President awards posthumous Medal of Honor to Airman after classified Laos mission; posted Sept. 21, 2010 (
11AFNS story: Airmen MIA from WWII identified, returned; posted Oct. 27, 2010 (
12Palm Beach Post story: Once-homeless veteran's company hires, trains ex-warriors; Aug. 6, 2010 (
13The White House Blog, This Veterans Day Took on a New Meaning by Darienne Page, West Wing Receptionist (; Nov. 19, 2009
14Congressional Record, Volume 154 Issue 70 (Wednesday, April 30, 2008); multiple sources
15Michael B. Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz; Memorial Day 2010; Dual signature letter May 28, 2010; 
16The White House Blog, This Veterans Day Took on a New Meaning by Darienne Page, West Wing Receptionist (; Nov. 19, 2009

Please provide comments or reviews of this speech template to:
Douglas W. Lefforge, DAF
Chief, Air Force Public Affairs Liaison to Defense Media Activity