Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, Mrs. Odierno, Sergeant Major Chandler, Congressman Deutch, Congressman Collins, ladies and gentlemen:
We are here this morning to celebrate the heroism of 24 selfless individuals – 24 soldiers whose acts of gallantry in battle merit our highest recognition.
We are also here to correct an injustice of history – to help right 24 wrongs that should never have occurred.
Before we do, I want to recognize another soldier here today, a man who President Obama acknowledged and commended yesterday. His name is Mitch Libman, and he was the driving force behind this effort to award the Medal of Honor to Jewish and Hispanic service members who had earned it, but never received it because of racial or religious discrimination.
When Mitch found out that his childhood friend had been denied the Medal of Honor, he decided to do whatever was necessary to rectify it.
He never gave up. And though it took a long time, too long, he was able to see the record set straight – not only for his friend, but for 23 other soldiers. Some of these soldiers gave their lives in service to this nation. Others have passed away, but we are honored to have three of the recipients here with us today.
Mitch, on behalf of everyone in this auditorium and in this country, thank you. We are grateful for your hard work and your persistence. We are also grateful for the tireless work of the United States Army, and many others, who helped identify and verify every heroic deed that we honor here today. Thank you all for making this happen.
Today, we not only recognize the heroism of these 24 brave Americans – we also recognize the significance of the Medal of Honor. Our nation’s highest honor presented for valor.
The names that grace the walls of the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes belong to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who represent the essence, the finest, the best of military service – the essence, the willingness to sacrifice your life for the lives of those around you.
Nearly 70 years ago, a Jewish chaplain who had just lived through the carnage at Iwo Jima led his fellow Marines in dedicating a cemetery on that island. They were burying their friends and their comrades – men of all religions, all races, all creeds. In mourning them, he observed:
“Here lie officers and men [of all colors], rich men and poor [men]… [all] together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews… together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith, or despises [another] because of [their] color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. … Thus do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to [ever] let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain.”
Today, on the doorstep of our nation’s capital, we honor 24 heroes with the same solemn pledge that was given on the island of Iwo Jima: that their sacrifice shall not be in vain.
Thank you for what you all have done for our country.