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England Lauds Washington at Soldiers' Purple Heart Ceremony

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2006 – Not far from the city that bears his name, George Washington reposes in his crypt at Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate he retired to after serving as America's first president and commander in chief of the armed forces.

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George Washington, commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and the first president of the United States, originated the Purple Heart Medal. After the American colonists had won their freedom from England, the medal was discontinued until it was revived in 1932. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Yesterday, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England traveled to Mount Vernon to salute seven soldiers recognized for their bravery and commitment to duty during a Purple Heart Medal ceremony. All the soldiers had been wounded during service in Iraq.

During his remarks, England told the soldiers they've joined more than 500,000 living Purple Heart recipients who've "all served and all sacrificed in the name of something higher than themselves."

Holding the ceremony at Mount Vernon was fitting, because "it's the home of our first founding father, a great national hero, and a visionary leader," England said. Washington authorized the Badge of Military Merit, now known as the Purple Heart, in 1782 to honor his soldiers for meritorious service during the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783.

Three Continental Army soldiers received the military merit badge, England said. Those soldiers were volunteers and heroes, England said, just as the present-day soldiers honored at the Mount Vernon ceremony.

Washington was the right man to lead America's struggle to shake off British rule, England said, noting the general "understood the commitment and sacrifices required to realize the noble goals of the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

After the war, Washington recognized the necessity to prepare for war in order to ensure peace and keep America's hard-won liberties, England said.

Washington's military badge was discontinued after the Revolutionary War, England said. Gen. Douglas MacArthur revived the award in 1932, the year before Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany.

About a decade later "fascism had reared its ugly head and engulfed much of the world in a very brutal war," England said. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, like Washington before him, "was staunch in his commitment to liberty," the deputy defense secretary said.

Even before the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, fascist dictatorships in Germany, Japan and Italy were threatening to engulf the free world. German air and ground forces invaded France on May 10, 1940. The French military was pummeled in a lightning-fast campaign known as blitzkrieg, and France surrendered on June 25. Only Great Britain stood in Hitler's way in Europe.

Like Washington, Roosevelt realized "that freedom has a price," England said. During a radio broadcast on Dec. 29, 1940, Roosevelt told America: "The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all of life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe to dominate the rest of the world."

Roosevelt went on to say that Americans could not depend on the width of the Atlantic Ocean to protect them from Nazi attack if Great Britain fell, noting that new bombers under development would soon render that cushion of space irrelevant.

Therefore, the United States was planning to defend itself against possible attack "with the utmost urgency and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain and the other free nations which are resisting (fascist) aggression," Roosevelt said.

"We must be the great arsenal of democracy," Roosevelt said. After Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II and defeated fascism with the help of its allies.

"In World War II as now, exceptional heroes were given the Purple Heart for their extraordinary service," England said. "And at the end of the 20th century, after World War I, World War II, and ultimate victory in the long Cold War, America had earned a period of peace and prosperity."

However, that "Pax Americana" ended on Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda terrorists attacked the U.S. with hijacked commercial jets.

"Terrorists turned civilian airliners into guided missiles and killed about 3,000 people from 60 different nations," England said. "They would have killed many more, if they'd had the wherewithal to do so."

The United States continues to be engaged in the war against global terrorism, a conflict unlike any America has ever experienced before, England said. A new generation of American fighting men and women has accepted the call to duty to defend America, he said.

"We are here today to celebrate and to pay tribute to the service of seven members of this generation that is answering the call today," England said. "These men and women have a great deal in common with the soldiers of General Washington's day; they also volunteered to step forward to defend their country in its hour of need."

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Gordon England

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