Hagel Remembers the Post-9/11 Fallen
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 24, 2014 At ceremonies marking the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, Americans read the names of all those killed in the war.
Today, the Vietnam generation saluted the latest generation of service members by reading the names of more than 6,800 American service members killed since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“It is right … that we gather to read the names of the fallen from our most recent wars at this wall,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. “This wall records the names of a previous generation of Americans who fought and died on a distant battlefield.”
Stretched behind Hagel was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a wall made up of 70 panels of black granite inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 Americans killed in Southeast Asia.
“Whether they fought in the jungles of Vietnam, or patrolled the streets of Fallujah, [Iraq], or the mountain paths of the Korengal Valley [in Afghanistan], they are the quiet heroes who died in service to something greater than themselves -- the service of their country,” Hagel said.
Those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan also fought for another principle, the secretary said, one that ties the latest generation to all others on American history.
“They fought to safeguard the lives of their comrades in arms,” he said. “I had the honor to serve alongside some of those quiet heroes in Vietnam … and I have the privilege of meeting and working with these quiet heroes every day as secretary of defense. They consider themselves ordinary people. They view themselves that way because they are humble, they are patriotic and they are selfless.”
But these men and women are not ordinary, Hagel noted. They are all volunteers tested in the fires of combat on new battlefields, and many returned to the battlefront multiple times, he said.
“Unlike many in my generation, today’s veterans return to a country that truly, truly, recognizes their service and recognizes the sacrifices they have made for all of us,” the defense secretary said. “They are treated with dignity, respect and appreciation that they have earned and they deserve.”
As the United States winds down the longest period of sustained combat in its history, the nation’s obligation to the more than 2 million Americans who stepped forward is only just beginning, Hagel said.
“This nation has a sacred obligation to take care of them and their families for however long is necessary,” he said. “It is part of the compact that we make with those who step forward to safeguard our freedom.”
Caring for these returning veterans -- those who bear the visible and invisible scars and wounds of war -- is a solemn responsibility for America, the defense secretary said.
“Whether the names of the fallen are etched on the wall behind me, or spoken here today, their spirit, their lives each live on,” he said. “We will never forget them.”
In the spirit of their sacrifice, the defense secretary called on all Americans to unite to be worthy of the death and pain and sacrifice of this generation.