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Arlington Wreath Laying Ceremony (Arlington, VA)
As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, Monday, May 26, 2008

     Near this peaceful place, great battles were fought in America’s Civil War. At a Memorial Day ceremony 20 years after that terrible conflict, the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, himself a Union Army veteran, honored the fallen of both sides. He recalled one soldier: Henry Abbott, aged 22, who led part of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers in the Battle of the Wilderness. “He was little more than a boy,” said Holmes, “but . . . for us, who not only admired, but loved [him], his death seemed to end a portion of our life also.”
     So it always is. Americans in uniform leaving this earth in the prime of their life while doing their duty. And when it happens, it “seems to end a portion of our life also.” Yet they are not really lost. They remain near. We hold them to us, every day, and especially on this day.
     We gather to remember. We adorn graves. We dedicate monuments. We form parades. And of those who fell in battle? Holmes said it best: “Unmarshaled save by their own deeds, the armies of the dead sweep before us, ‘wearing their wounds like stars.’ ”
     They’ve come from every part of America. They serve and sacrifice, in every generation. Their blood was shed on this soil and in many foreign lands. We owe so much to those who passed through the perils of combat, and lived – and those who did not. We have our liberty because of what they did. Liberty has come to other peoples because of what they did, and are doing, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other places around the world.
     Mourning the war dead calls forth many emotions: remorse that they suffered; awe at how they bore that suffering; pride in the fine people they were; gratitude for their willingness to be the guarantors of our freedom. Their sacrifice is a reminder that we must go on, and be worthy of them, and finish their work.
     No one is more determined to do this than our Commander-in-Chief. It is an honor to serve a president who has shown resolve when our citizens and our way of life have come under attack, who steadfastly defends the values for which Americans have fought throughout our history, and who has so faithfully supported the men and women bearing the burden of the fight.
     It is my privilege to introduce the President of the United States of America.