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Medal of Honor Ceremony for Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, U.S. Army
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Pentagon, Hall of Heroes, Washington, DC, Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Good morning.  Thank you very much, Secretary Harvey and Pete Schoomaker.  DoD officials, members of the Smith and Perlman families, who have all been introduced -- we're so pleased to see you here in the Pentagon.  Soldiers from the 3rd ID returning here to participate in this event, we welcome all of you, and certainly other distinguished guests and officials.  We thank you all so much for being with us today.

 

This is a most important ceremony; indeed, a most unusual one.  Interestingly, 32 years ago this week, in lower Manhattan, what was then the world's tallest building, officially opened for business after an impressive ribbon-cutting ceremony.  The World Trade Center at that point was a symbol of American enterprise and ingenuity.  Its twin towers seemed to reach the sky.  They were testaments to the energy of free men and free markets.

 

The evil that drove extremists to topple those towers and to rip an ugly gash in this building -- killing some total of 3,000 people that day -- it's difficult to comprehend that evil.  It's hard to know what motivates men to hate and to murder, and to reject the God-given rights of freedom.  But this much we do know: from our earliest days, America has had the great good fortune to be blessed by volunteers, who have stepped forward to defend the American people and to defend our free way of life.  They're soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines.  They're paramedics and nurses, firefighters and policemen.  And they're family members, who often struggle with quiet dignity while those loved ones serve so far away.

 

A few of them have famous names.  Some undertake crucial missions in secret.  Others live in gracious anonymity.  But each is driven, I believe, by love of country, certainly a devotion to duty, and -- I would guess -- the hope of leaving their loved ones and future generations a safer and a better world.

 

One of the bravest among them we honor here today.  A decade after Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith first saw combat in Operation Desert Storm, he returned to duty in Iraq -- a proud sergeant, a tested soldier, and certainly an inspired leader.  We stand in awe of the heroism described in Sergeant Smith's citation, and which was so eloquently recounted at the White House ceremony yesterday.

 

Standing here today, one need not look far to understand what motivated his bravery.  Certainly we see in the shared pride and the grief of those he loved, in his children, David and Jessica, who daily brought him joy; his wife, Birgit, who -- I'm told -- Paul in his final words compared to the brightest star in the sky; and his family, who saw the boy from Tampa become a man who crossed deserts to topple a tyrant, to help liberate some 25 million people and to defend our nation.  Paul R. Smith now belongs to that singular pantheon of brave patriots who fought for something even more sacred than their own lives.

 

Our history is truly blessed with such heroes.   In 1861, a Union soldier named Sullivan Ballou wrote a letter to his wife, Sarah, one week before he fought along a quiet creek called Bull Run.  This would be the first great battle of the Civil War, and Sullivan's letter would be the last letter he ever wrote.  In it, he told his wife, "My love for you is deathless.  It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break; and yet my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on, with all these chains, to the battlefield."  I think that captures well the spirit of men like Paul Smith.

 

And now Paul joins America's truly most admired fraternity:  those awarded the Medal of Honor.  It's a fraternity so revered that President Harry S. Truman once confided to a soldier he decorated -- he said, "I'd rather have this medal than be president."

 

And today we include Sergeant Paul Smith in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, established as a mark of appreciation to those who have received this highest of distinctions.  Including -- here are people you may have heard of, some of them:  General Jimmy Doolittle, Sergeant York, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.  And we're also honored that two members of that fraternity join us today:  Major Alfred Rascon and Colonel Barney Barnum.  There you are.  Good to see you again.  And we thank both of you for being here and clearly for your courageous service to our country.

 

It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, "The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name."  And Paul Smith has done that, and a great deal more.  He has left his family and his country a life of great meaning and entrusted us with his faith in America and its mission.  And for that faith, he laid down his life.  And for that sacrifice, we are forever in his debt.  And in his name, we're called upon to ensure that his trust was well-placed and made to endure.

 

May God grant his dear family comfort, and may God continue to watch over our great country.  Thank you.

 

For a complete transcript, please visit:

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2005/tr20050405-secdef2441.html