We will never forget

On this Memorial Day, we gather again, as we do faithfully every year, to pay tribute to our country's men and women who fell in the line of duty -- citizens of this great nation who gave their lives to preserve the liberties upon which America was founded, and which we have carried forward for more than 200 years.
All across America, our grateful nation comes together today to honor these men and women -- some celebrated, others quite unknown, each a patriot and a hero. More than 600,000 have fallen in combat during the 222-year history of our nation. It is right that we pause to remember them and, in remembering, honor their selfless sacrifice.
These brave Americans exemplified the best of American values under the harshest of conditions and often far from home, on battlefields with names both familiar and lesser known -- Lexington, the beaches of Normandy, the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam and the streets of Somalia.
For many of our schoolchildren who have known no war, today may seem to be little more than a day off from school or a welcome start to the summer. Indeed, for the last several days, families across America have been preparing for their Memorial Day weekend. And they have been thinking about what the weather for the weekend will be like, and when can they get away. Newscasters have been talking about crowds and traffic projections, planned activities and other such events. In many respects that is the focus on this holiday weekend.
I do not think that any of the honored dead whom Memorial Day was established to commemorate would begrudge American families the opportunity to have some quality time together -- youngsters to be with parents and friends, parents to relax and re-establish their family ties, and yes, even for people to play and enjoy themselves.
But what we must not do is forget what this day of commemoration is about. Initially established after the Civil War to honor the dead and the commitment of those who served on both sides in that conflict, Memorial Day has since become the day on which we annually remember the sacrifice of all who have perished in our nation's wars. So, take the time to relax, but also take time to think about why we call it Memorial Day, and why you have that time off to be with one another.
On this day, and all such days when we pause to remember, there are essential lessons for the young, and indeed for all the rest of us as well: appreciate the blessings of freedom, recognize the power and virtue of sacrifice, and respect those who gave everything on behalf of our common good. This day reminds us of what we can achieve when we pull together as one nation, respecting each other with all of our myriad differences, but coming together -- we can fight any battle and face any challenge.
It reminds us of our duty to honor not only those we lost in freedom's cause, but also, through attention and care, the service men and women who came back home and are now our veterans, as well as the families of those for whom there tragically has never been a final accounting.
It reminds us of our obligation to take care of those who have taken care of us and those who take care of us today. That means ensuring that our men and women in uniform have the best training, equipment and preparation possible to do their jobs for freedom, because even in times of peace we must remain vigilant in a very new and still uncertain world.
And above all, it reminds us of America's responsibility to remain the world's leading force for peace, prosperity and freedom as we enter the 21st century, so that future generations of young Americans who wear our uniform will never have to endure the losses in battles that our predecessors did in the 20th century.
We must remember the lessons of those who gave their lives in World War II and those who worked so hard to make sure that we would prevail in the Cold War. We must create the institutions and the understandings that will advance the security and prosperity of the American people for the next 50 years.
Today our men and women in uniform continue to demonstrate those same values in Bosnia, Kuwait, and in more than 130 other countries around the world. They exemplify personal courage -- both physical and moral -- facing fear, danger and adversity on a daily basis. They embrace loyalty, faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution; the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard; and their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, including active, reserve and national guard components. They carry out their duty with honor and integrity, treating all with dignity and respect. They put the welfare of the nation and their people before their own, in the highest traditions of selfless service.
If you look at all the gray stones in our national cemeteries today, you will see those who have gone before us did not die in vain; you will see what we enjoy today, and that we stand at the pinnacle of our power, our success, and our influence as a nation. But that means we also stand at the pinnacle of our responsibility.
American men and women in uniform risk their lives on a daily basis to defend our freedom and democracy. Americans have always believed there are values worth fighting for: fifty years ago, American servicemen were struggling to keep freedom and democracy alive in Berlin. The Berlin Airlift was one of the first battles of the Cold War to test American willpower.

One hundred years ago, American fighting men were defending our freedoms in the Spanish-American War. War was declared April 22, 1898, after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor. The explosion of the Maine cost the lives of 266 American servicemen. The cry "Remember the Maine" became a rallying call for Americans fighting on San Juan Hill, throughout Cuba and in the Philippines.
Today the original mast of the Maine stands as a monument to those who gave their lives. On the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, the Mast of the Maine caps the rise of a hill just outside the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater. The remains of 229 members of the ship's crew rest for eternity alongside the memorial in section 24 of the cemetery.
In 1868, Major General John A. Logan issued an order for his posts to decorate graves "with the choicest flowers of springtime." He also urged that, "We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance.

And so on this day when we remember those who gave everything for our nation and its freedom, let us resolve to honor them by renewing our commitment on the eve of a new millennium to lead the world toward greater peace, freedom and prosperity. Let us be true to General Logan's original urging to never forget the enormous cost of a free and undivided republic. Let us remember the words of former President George Bush, who said, "...Strength secures the peace. America will continue to be a force for peace and stability in the world provided we stay strong."
These words were borrowed with permission from a 1998 VFW Speech.

I know my friends will understand my borrowing these words in their honor.

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