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Memorial Day Observance

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, Monday, May 30, 2011

Mr. President, veterans, active service members, families, welcome.  For many Americans, Memorial Day is a welcome respite from work: an extra day to spend at the beach or finish errands.  But we must never forget that it is foremost an occasion to reflect, remember, and to honor the brave men and women who have fought and died for us.  Each year we set aside a single day to reflect on the service of our armed forces in generations past and present – a day where me must also honor the sacrifices of military family members, who in recent years have borne the brunt of repeated deployments, long partings, and the fear of receiving the knock on the door with the worst of all possible news. 

But I urge all Americans to remember that, just as each and every day the troops now serving faithfully pursue their mission to protect us, so each and every day they deserve our recognition, our respect, and our conscious gratitude.  Every soldier, sailor, airman, marine and coastguardsmen wearing the uniform today enlisted or reenlisted knowing they would serve in time of war.  As Thucydides put it, “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

As I come to the end of my time in this post, I know this will be my final opportunity to stand and speak in this hallowed place and pay tribute to the fallen.  It is up to us to be worthy of their sacrifice – in the decisions we make, the priorities we set, the support we provide to troops, veterans, and their families.  

For the rest of my life, I will keep these brave patriots and their loved ones in my heart and in my prayers – as I know does their Commander-in-Chief, who has so steadfastly supported those bearing the brunt of the fight.  I have been honored to work with President Obama for the past two and half years and to see the deep seriousness and thoughtfulness with which he weighs the security of nation and the safety of the men and women who serve.  Throughout, he has never shrunk from the tough decisions, the heavy burdens, and the true responsibilities of command.

It is my privilege and my honor to introduce the President of the United States.

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