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Memorial Day Message

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Washington D.C., Monday, May 28, 2012

For many Americans, Memorial Day is a welcome break from work, a time for outdoor barbeques or a day at the beach.  But today is above all an opportunity for Americans to come together and pay tribute to all those who have fought and died in defense of our freedom.  It is a day to reflect on the service and sacrifice of these heroes, and to honor those American families for whom Memorial Day is another day of longing for their loved ones. 

This Memorial Day, the American people pay particular tribute to the generation who stepped forward after the attacks of September 11th, and volunteered to put their lives on the line in far-off lands to protect our nation.  Today, we remember the more than 6,400 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have paid the ultimate price for us to live in safety over the last ten years of war.  They and their families have paid a heavy price so that we could be more secure, but because of their sacrifice the torch of freedom burns bright.

Since taking this position, I have written hundreds of letters of condolence to the families of the fallen.  It is the hardest part of my job.  There are no words that can heal, no sentences that can lessen that loss.  I keep the fallen and their families in my heart and in my prayers, and I tell those families that their loved one died to give their fellow Americans a better life.  That is the price they paid for us.  Let us never forget them and what they have done for this country.

As we emerge from a decade of war, we must renew our pledge on this Memorial Day to do all we can to ensure that the sacrifices of our service members and their families are honored, and that those who fell in battle are remembered.  They fought for us.  Our duty is to fight to make sure they are never forgotten.  As Americans, that must be our charge and our sacred mission not just on Memorial Day, but every day.       

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