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Green Hills Park Memorial Day Observance
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon, Rancho Palos Verdes, California, Monday, May 29, 2000

Congressman Steve Kuykendall, thank you very much. Ray Frew [President, Green Hills Memorial Park], what a great ceremony. At one end of the country at 8:00 this morning, there was a comparable program at Arlington Cemetery, and as the country moves across its time zones, here we are on the West Coast. This is the largest Memorial Day program on the West Coast and I want to thank each of you for being here and joining us today.

The skydivers were great. I want to thank the Marines and Air Force for the flyovers. It’s good to see General [Eugene] Tattini, who’s been serving the Air Force in a number of key assignments. He was Deputy at the Los Angeles Space Command for a number of years and then went off to other assignments and is now back as Commander [Los Angeles Air Force Base]. And to David Alpert, you know when you see that POW/MIA flag up there you are not forgotten. That flag took a lot of effort, a lot of walking of the halls in Sacramento and Washington, and I want to thank you.

I have been fortunate in these jobs to have good people from this community to work with Congressman Kuykendall and his predecessor Congresswoman [Jane] Harmon. Between them there are military medicine pay raises and improved benefits for military medicine this year. I think of my time as the Under Secretary of the Air Force with Congressman Steve Horn and Congresswomen Harmon, and the effort to get the C-17 program back on the right step.

I’ve since flown on the C-17 into Bosnia, into Kosovo. There was another trip with U.S veterans aboard the C-17 in Kunming, China, at one end of the path across the Himalayas that used to be called the Hump where American soldiers flew from India across the Himalayas into China during World War II. I've had that chance on the C-17. So I want to thank this community for sending such great people to serve and represent them in Congress. [Applause]

Members of the armed forces who join us today, the Active duty, Guard and Reserves, the many brave veterans here and the distinguished guests, it's my pleasure to be here.

Memorial Day is our chance to remember and celebrate the generations of Americans who have fought and died for our freedom, from the founding generation who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for the independence of America, to the greatest generation -- those who endured the Depression, fought a world war and Korea, and then came home to reshape America. I wonder if the World War II veterans could all stand for just one moment. [Applause]

To every young person here who will in 20 or 30 years, we hope, come back as adults with their own children. You will be able to remark that you were here on this day and that you were able to witness members of this greatest generation as they stood before your very eyes. These people started the 20th Century with unbridled optimism and then found themselves in two world wars, in Korea and Vietnam, and they now turn over to succeeding generations in the year of 2000 a country with unlimited optimism. For those young children here today, they will be able to say in the future that they saw these men and women.

In the past we have not heard many of the stories of the Korean War, sometimes called the forgotten war. But we will in just a few weeks commemorate the 50th Anniversary -- June 25, 1950 -- in ceremonies across Korea, all over the country, and including Washington where veterans will gather from all across the country, including the veterans of the legendary 24th Infantry Division. They were the first soldiers sent into Korea. [Applause.]

They were Americans of extraordinary bravery, many who never returned home. But some are with us today: Don Barrett and Jesse Rodriguez who served in the 19th Regiment, Joe Rosinski from the 5th Regimental Combat team, and Norm Estes and Tony Apodaca who served in the 34th and the 21st. I'd ask them to come up and stand in front of all of you for just one second. [Applause.] Fifty years later, we're glad you're with us. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

Many of these men have incredible stories. Tony Apodaca of San Pedro, stand here for just one second. In 1950, then Private Apodaca found himself facing an advancing Soviet tank, single handedly firing a machine gun. Then, wounded in the back by enemy gunfire, he crawled through the mud of the Han River, floating across to American troops who took him to the relative safety of a first aid station.

Lying on a hospital cot, the young private looked up into the hills behind the first aid station only to see hundreds of North Korean soldiers streaming towards him. He soon found himself propped up in the back of a jeep with a gun; firing on the pursuing troops as the medical station frantically evacuated.

Tony Apodaca made it out that day, only to return just a few months later after his recovery to land at Inchon with the Marines. Tony knows better than most the truth in the saying that is inscribed on the Korean Memorial in Washington that "Freedom is not free." Tony, thank you very much. [Applause]

All generations that have followed have understood the sacrifices of the past and the sentiments that guided our parents and grandparents. From the Vietnam veterans we can turn to the stories of Americans who were there for us, Americans like Army Major Rodney Strobridge. He volunteered to go to Vietnam and did two tours. At a time when protests raged across the country Rod Strowbridge would occasionally hide his military haircut with a long wig. But he saw military service as a chance to prove himself and to do something for his country.

Rodney Strobridge was an easygoing, good humored graduate of Torrance High School, Class of 1959. He would also attend El Camino Junior College and Santa Monica City College. Deciding that it was time for him to follow in the footsteps of his father and his uncle, he joined the Army. He was proud that he would be flying attack helicopters.

You will find his name there on the Wall. The Wall as it is laid out in Washington, and as is laid out here, is designed to be a circular type embrace. Where it says 1959, those are among the first casualties; the names are listed in chronological order. To the lower left of the panel that says 1959, you will find a panel that says 1975. You'll find Rod Strobridge's name there on panel number 23. He was shot down over An Loc in 1972, missing in action to this day.

I have spoken with his mother and father. I have spoken to his wife who has since remarried. But they all speak of his spirit and of how fond he was of this South Bay area.

So as we continue on this Memorial Day, and as we pause at 3:00 o'clock today in what the President has declared the Moment of Remembrance, I hope that we will think about people like Army Major Rodney Strobridge.

We have another hero of Vietnam who is with us. We have many in the audience, but another here on stage. Alfred Rascon was born in Mexico. His parents came north like many, looking for a new opportunity and a better life, and they settled in Oxnard. He just spent the weekend visiting with his father. At age seventeen Alfred said it was time for him to repay his country. So he signed up for the Army and volunteered for Vietnam where he served as a medic with the 173rd Airborne.

The citation of his Medal of Honor, which was awarded to him by President Clinton earlier this year, which will be read later in the program. But the most important thing you should know about Alfred Rascon on this day is that he loves his wife and his two wonderful children, that he loves his parents, he loves his country, and that by every measure, while proud of his service, he is also a humble man who asked that he receive no special recognition.

In fact, on that day in 1966, Alfred Rascon and his life were etched into our history for his bravery and for his sacrifice. He truly is another American hero that is with us today. I am proud that he is also my personal friend. [Applause]

It was just a few months ago that the President pinned the Medal of Honor on his chest saying, "This man gave everything he had utterly and selflessly to protect his platoon mates and the nation he was still not yet a citizen of." Al Rascon's response was that every man in his platoon was a hero, standing up for each other and for their country.

Today all over the world a new generation of Americans in uniform continues to stand for America and for each other. They are stationed all around the world, and on Saturday I will be with some of them, those that are serving in the American sector in Kosovo.

They serve with sacrifice, away from home, but they do it with excellence. The United States armed forces is the envy of every military organization in the world today. They are professional, they are all volunteers, and they are the ultimate reflection of the society that we all take for granted.

For freedom in the year 2000 means a time when the world is moving toward democracy, toward freedom for all its people. To the men and women who serve in the armed forces today, who have served in the 20th Century, this is part of their legacy. What they have done not simply for themselves, but for their country and for every succeeding generation.

This year for the first time we can honor their service and their sacrifice in a national Moment of Remembrance. By Presidential proclamation, at 3:00 this afternoon Americans across the country are asked to observe a minute of silence in honor of those who have given their lives for this country. That silence should serve as a reminder to us all that every day these men and women have sacrificed, and that we should acknowledge the service of all our veterans, including the more than 6,000 veterans interred here at Green Hills. As President Clinton has said, "We should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our freedom."

So on behalf of our President, our Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, on behalf of the men and women who serve in the armed forces of the United States, Active, Guard and Reserve, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, I thank you for being here today. Memorial Day, a day very special in our history, is ultimately about our veterans, about our military members, not simply about their passing. As the words that are inscribed on the American Cemetery right above Omaha Beach say, "Think not of their passing, think only of the glory of their spirit."

Thank you very much. [Applause.]