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Rolling Thunder

Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C., Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thank you Admiral Mullen.  Thank you Artie and the whole leadership team at Rolling Thunder.  And thanks to all who have come on this Ride for Freedom, from the bottom of my heart.  But your journey here today is only one part of the relentless work of Rolling Thunder members for the past 24 years. 

You have made sure that no effort is spared to bring closure to the families of men and women who have been killed or gone missing in action while defending our country.  You have performed countless acts of service on behalf of veterans and active duty members of the armed services, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Above all, you have helped ensure that the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform – and their families – are recognized, honored, and never forgotten.  Men and women like the wounded warriors and gold star mothers that are honored guests here today. 

For most Americans, Memorial Day weekend is a respite from work.  But for those of us gathered here, it is an affirmation of our commitment to remember those heroes who have fought and died or been captured in defense of our nation – not just this weekend, but every day of our lives.  We have a sacred obligation to those who have borne that heavy burden in the past.  The men and women now protecting us on the front lines gain comfort knowing that today, if they are missing or captured we will not rest until they are accounted for and welcome home to the honor they deserve – even if conflicts recede into history. 

This is my final Memorial Day serving as Secretary of Defense, every day of it at time of war.  I have had – and will have – no greater honor in my life than to serve and to lead our men and women in the armed forces.  I will always keep them in my heart and my prayers, as long as I live.  They will join the likes of veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as a heroic generation that battled in faraway lands to preserve the freedom and security of this great nation.  Generations represented by the thousands of veterans gathered here today, who well know the sacrifices that go hand in hand with this essential duty. 

The American people can never repay the debt they owe to those who have fought and served, and to their family members who have stood so strong at home.  Your work – and the sound of your bikes – reminds them of the costs incurred, the blood spilt, and the enduring need to maintain a strong military in a dangerous world. 

Thank you and may God bless you all.

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