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Memorial Day Observance

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, May 26, 2014

Thank you.  Good morning.  

Mr. President; Mrs. Obama; Vice President Biden; Dr. Biden; Secretary Shinseki; General Dempsey; Major General Buchanan; ladies and gentlemen: First, I want to acknowledge, and add my welcome, to the families of our military men and women who are here today and who are watching this all over the world.  

And I want to particularly welcome the families of the fallen who are here with us this morning.  We admire you.  We are grateful.  We will never forget your sacrifices and the sacrifices of your loved ones.

Ladies and gentlemen, I very much appreciate the opportunity to be here – to be here this morning, in this place, as we observe this very sacred, very sacred day in America, Memorial Day.  We gather to remember those who sacrificed everything in defense of our nation.

This Memorial Day has special meaning, given that next week marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings at Normandy – a day that was perhaps America’s bloodiest day in all of World War II… a day with more than 10,000 Allied casualties.  Such a staggering toll is difficult to comprehend.

As we commemorate the fallen, I think of the wisdom, and the humility, of our then-Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight David Eisenhower.  Not long after the first anniversary of D-Day, he said that any battlefield commander, no matter how accomplished or celebrated he might be, “would sadly face the fact that his honors cannot hide in his memories the crosses marking the resting places of the dead.  They cannot soothe the anguish of the widow or the orphan whose husband or father [or son or daughter] will not return.”

When General Eisenhower spoke those words, our nation and its military were approaching a period of great transition. 

Victory had been achieved in Europe; the war would end in the coming months.  Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines were beginning to come home, get on with their lives.  And our country began to ask itself, where should we go from here?

Today, as we conclude 13 years of war – the longest in our history – America is approaching another period of transition.  As always, these times of change and uncertainty require exceptional leadership.

They demand leaders who are strong in the face of challenges, who are wise in the face of complexity, who are prudent in the face of uncertainty, and who are as humble as the courageous individuals they lead.

Our Commander-in-Chief is one of those exceptional leaders.  The President was in Afghanistan less than 24 hours ago, and on behalf of all of our military men and women and their families across the world, I want to thank him for his personal commitment to those deployed in harm’s way.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to introduce to you now, the President of the United States.

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