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Medal of Honor Ceremony iho Private First Class Ross McGinnis
As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, June 03, 2008

To the family of Private First Class Ross McGinnis… welcome.    Tom and Romayne…Becky and Katie… it was a privilege to spend time with you before this ceremony. 

We are all very proud of Ross… and I know that he’d be extraordinarily proud of you.  Thank you for raising such a magnificent young man and for the immense sacrifice you have made for our Nation.

Welcome also to Ross’s relatives and friends who have traveled so far to be with us.  And welcome to Ross’s brothers-in-arms who have joined us….as well as the other distinguished Medal of Honor recipients with us this afternoon.

I appreciate General Cody’s account of Private First Class McGinnis’s heroism and service as an American warrior. 

I also thank my good friend Secretary Pete Geren for his eloquent description of the man you knew and loved so well…. 

I’d like to add to their sentiments by talking briefly about the significance of the Medal of Honor … and how it reflects the very best qualities of the men and women who wear the cloth of our Nation.

For over 230 years, the freedoms and liberties we hold most sacred in this country have been earned by our fellow citizens.  From the Minutemen at Bunker Hill to our warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, our history is filled with stories of individuals sacrificing their own lives to secure the profound gift of peace for others.

On this very day, 64-years-ago, tens of thousands of young American Soldiers, and our allies, embarked on ships in the English Channel … prepared to land at Normandy on D-Day June 6th, 1944 … their courage would eventually liberate millions from the dominance of Hitler’s Nazi regime and bring freedom to Europe.  Their courage decisively changed the course of history.    On that single day at Normandy, thousands of Americans were killed, wounded and missing in action.   Four would earn the Medal of Honor.

This generation of heroes continues to demonstrate that same spirit and selfless sense of duty.  They know that freedom is not an inalienable right.  Rather, as President Ronald Reagan said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We don’t pass it on to our children in the blood stream.  It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”

As a Nation, we are willing to sacrifice our blood and treasure for our founding belief – freedom.  America’s fundamental value is freedom for our citizens – and for other people around the world … and in so doing we better secure our own freedoms.  And as a nation, we also honor all those who serve … and especially our fallen heroes. 

Ross was securing those very freedoms for Americans … and for the people of Iraq … when he made the ultimate sacrifice.

No serviceman or woman goes to war intending to make the ultimate sacrifice – in fact, every soldier who goes into combat expects to come home.  While warfighters do die in combat, they don’t choose to do so.

But there are rare heroes who consciously make the decision to do an extraordinary thing – if need be, to sacrifice their lives for others.  And that’s the reason we gather today, to stand in awe of their choice and to pay tribute to their sacrifice.  These heroes are recipients of the Medal of Honor; the special few whose actions went above and beyond the call of duty.

The Medal of Honor is indeed an exceptional distinction … the greatest tribute a grateful nation can bestow on one of its own.

Since the first presentation of the Medal of Honor on March 25, 1863, more than 39 million men and women have answered the call to serve … but less than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded.  Of the over 26 million who served during WWII, less than 500 received the Medal of Honor.

It is a most jealously guarded distinction because it sets the highest standard.  The acts of bravery shown by the very select group of Medal of Honor recipients reflect the uncommon valor, courage and ultimate commitment to their comrades-in-arms. 

I believe a nation is distinguished by what it believes … by what it values … by whom it honors … and to what it aspires to be.

The elite circle of Medal of Honor recipients are our nation’s most revered heroes.  And, every time a name is added, that individual’s story enriches the significance of this award.

The Medal of Honor is awarded in the name of the Congress and presented by the President of the United States…. but, in truth, it is bestowed by the American people on our best and bravest.  Those who received it are forever national treasures.

Yesterday, at the White House, the Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush, bestowed the Medal of Honor on Private First Class McGinnis.  And, today, we honor his name … and his legacy … of heroism at the Pentagon.

These have been remarkable days … as we appropriately honor Ross and his family for their service and sacrifices on behalf of a grateful nation.  While this is a bittersweet occasion, we can all find comfort in recognizing the astonishing gift given to us by Ross and by generations before him. 

Tomorrow will bring another remarkable day … because tomorrow morning … here in Washington … in Knox, Pennsylvania – Ross’ hometown … in Meadville --- his birthplace, and in every city and village throughout this great Nation … Americans will wake up as a free people.

This is not by accident … not by chance … but because great Americans, like Private First Class Ross McGinnis have paid the high price of freedom on our behalf.  That’s why we stand in awe … because PFC Ross McGinnis voluntarily gave his life for his comrades-in-arms and paid the ultimate sacrifice so that others could awaken each morning as free people.

PFC Ross McGinnis, his name … his actions … are now forever immortalized in the Nation’s consciousness.  He is part of the national fabric … a reflection of American values.

May God bless PFC Ross McGinnis …and especially his family … all of you … may God bless all who wear the cloth of our Nation … and may God continue to bless the United States of America.