Secretary Rumsfeld Veteran's Day Remarks, U.S. Embassy, San Salvador, El Salvador
UNKNOWN: [In Progress]... May I please introduce the United States Secretary of Defense, The Honorable, Donald H. Rumsfeld.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Minister Romero, General Alvarego (sp), Ambassador Barclay, and gentlemen, ladies, and most particularly, veterans. Normally on this day I would be at Arlington. So it is a particular pleasure for me to be here with you to celebrate this important day and this fine tradition here at this embassy. I thank all of the veterans here for their service to the country. We are deeply in your debt.
[Inaudible] it’s a great pleasure to be here in El Salvador and a strong ally of the global war on terror and a nation that understands well the human struggle for liberty and democracy. Not so long ago, El Salvador was enmeshed in its own fight for political and economic freedom. For millions of Salvadorans back then, peace and prosperity was little more than a distant hope. In that struggle for freedom, many lives were lost. I think they would be proud to know that in the dark days that followed the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, El Salvador was one of the very first countries to offer its support and its friendship and that soldiers from a peaceful and democratic El Salvador are today fighting alongside U.S. and coalition forces to help to secure freedom and prosperity for the people of Iraq. The Iraqi people can find much to admire in El Salvador’s recent history. Your country has accomplished so much in so few years.
Today El Salvador is one of the freest and most stable countries in the hemisphere. And the people of the United States, I must say, take special pride when having stood with you during those tough times and they were tough. I believe someday both of our countries, the people of both of our countries, will look back with pride on the role that you are now playing in helping the Iraqis on their paths to freedom and a more peaceful future. Today the Iraqi people are learning that our people, your people, discovered during our own struggle for independence and freedom, that the fight is not easy, it never is, that it requires patience and that it has costs.
And sometimes the struggle for freedom gives us heroes. Earlier this year and on Najaf in Iraq, a 16-member El Salvadoran squad came under the attack by assassins. El Salvadoran troops fought until they ran out of ammunition. I’m told that [Inaudible] they then fought against these criminals with their knives, holding on valiantly, until other coalition soldiers were able to help break through and come to their aid.
In that battle, several Salvadoran troops were wounded and one, Private Natividad Mendez was killed. The United States mourns his loss. His family and his country know that he has joined the ranks of those patriots throughout history who gave their all on behalf of humanity’s greatest gift – the gift of freedom. And as we’ve gathered today to remember the sacrifices of all veterans, and those who have battled tyranny and terror and conflicts in every era, we also remember those who stand on the front lines today.
Tomorrow, I will have the honor of awarding six Salvadorans the Bronze Star, among our nation’s top military honors for their bravery in saving the lives of U.S. personnel. These fine soldiers served with great distinction.
Freedom is, again, under attack by those who seek to rule by the few or by the dictator. And again, that challenge is being met by patriots from our two countries and many other countries in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and everywhere if liberty is at stake. To them, and to the veterans here, and to the veterans of every war on whose shoulders they stand -- the living, the missing, the departed -- our deepest gratitude for their service and for their sacrifice.
May God bless them and may he continue to bless our two countries.