Remarks by the Deputy Secretary of Defense
The Honorable Gordon R. England
Greek Independence Day Reception
26 March 2007
Alex [Ambassador Mallias] – Many thanks for the introduction and for the opportunity to share this special evening with you. I greatly appreciate the warm friendship that we enjoy. The Ambassador and I both share the same philosophy – namely, that friendship between nations is built on friendships between individual people, and, between us, we work hard to build strong bonds between our countries.
It’s a privilege and honor for me to represent the Department of Defense on this day of celebration. Mr. Ambassador, to you and everyone in your Embassy, to the Prime Minister, to the Minister of Defense and to all the people of Greece … my heartiest congratulations on 186 vibrant years of independence.
As you likely know, July 4th is to most Americans the most meaningful national holiday, and that is as it should be. A day to celebrate independence for many countries is a day of immense importance.
For Greece, it’s a day that celebrates the courageous stand taken by a few brave men, who rose up in opposition to imperial oppression … who survived harsh reprisals and bitter struggles … who overcame the skepticism of outsiders who initially thought the fight unwinnable … who ultimately triumphed, with some help from outside friends and supporters … and who established a sovereign new state, based on the democratic principles of ancient Greece. Those heroes literally changed history – and the world is better for it.
As Alex knows, I am from the great State of Texas, a state that he has also visited a number of times. And, in Texas, we celebrate our own Independence Day, remembering a place and a time where Texans fought bravely for 13 days and to the death against the overwhelming forces of the Mexican Army. Their courage and sacrifices that day cleared the way for their fellow Texans to continue the fight for freedom.
A parallel battle took place in ancient Greece almost 2500 hundred years ago at a place called Thermopylae, where another small band stood tall for freedom … the 300 Spartans against the overwhelming forces of the advancing Persian invaders. Like the heroes at the Alamo, they also perished…but the ultimate outcome was the same – the Spartans’ courage and sacrifices at Thermopylae cleared the way for their fellow Greeks to continue the fight for freedom.
The courage of the Greeks is forever written in stone and history. On the first day of the siege, the Persian king demanded that the Greeks surrender their arms. King Leonidas replied, “Come and get them.” The courage and leadership from that battle has been documented in a famous book, “The Gates of Fire”, that many, including myself, have read several times.
The courage of the Greek nation lives today in many of our American military. An American soldier in the First World War, George Dilboy, a son of Greek parents who had emigrated to the United States, won the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor the United States can bestow for military bravery and valor, in France. He is only one of the many Americans of Greek birth or heritage who so enrich American society and sustain local communities. He is an example of the courageous spirit that our people and our nations share.
Today, no nation can stand alone, and America is deeply fortunate to have Greece as a partner, ally and friend with whom we share a deep respect for democracy, for the rule of law, for individual freedom and responsibility, and for economic entrepreneurship and human rights.
Alex, it’s a pleasure to be with you tonight, and I thank you for the honor of celebrating with you. I again congratulate you and the people of Greece on this momentous and joyful occasion and for the great bond that exists between our nations.