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Memorial Day Observance

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Monday, May 28, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, veterans, active service members, Mrs. Obama, Mr. President.  It is an honor to be able to be here today with all of you to observe Memorial Day on this most sacred ground for our military and our nation.  Arlington and all the men and women who rest here are a constant reminder that freedom is not free. 

Today we join all Americans in coming together to pay tribute to all those brave Americans who have fought and who have died for our country.  We honor and remember America’s heroes, our patriots, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our liberties. 

As we have for the past ten Memorial Days, today we still gather at a time of war.  Today the American people remember the more than 6,400 heroes who have died in defense of our nation since September 11th.  Today we will also pay tribute to the 58,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who died in Vietnam on this 50th anniversary of that war.  They and their families have paid a price beyond measure.  But because of their sacrifice, we are free and we are secure.  We are safer because they were willing to put their lives on the line.

All of the millions of brave patriots who have stepped forward to serve this nation in a time of war deserve our gratitude, our respect, and our enduring support of those because they have kept our nation safe.

Just as we reflect on their service and sacrifice, we honor those American families for whom this day is most difficult – the mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters who have lost child, a spouse, or a parent. 

Since becoming Secretary of Defense, like the President, I have written hundreds of letters of condolences to these families.  There are no words that can heal, no sentences that can lessen the loss.  But in the struggle to find the right words, I tell them that their loved one died for all they loved – for their spouse, for their children, for their family, for their country – to ensure the survival of our way of life and our nation.  And the memory of their loved ones will be in our hearts every day for the rest of our lives.  They will never be forgotten.  They are forever heroes. 

We must resolve to do all we can for these families.  It takes all of us – every citizen, every community, every business – to care for those families.  That’s why the consolation and support provided by organizations like the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and others are so important. 

As we hopefully emerge from a decade of war, we must renew our pledge on this Memorial Day to do all we can to ensure that the sacrifices of our service members and their families are honored, and that those who fell in battle are remembered and never forgotten. 

As Americans, that must be our sacred charge and our sacred mission not just on Memorial Day, but every day.  They fought and they died for us.  And we must now fight to protect the memory of their sacrifice forever.

It is now my privilege and my honor to introduce someone who has taken this charge into his heart. 

I have been honored to work closely with President Obama as Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, and to have the opportunity to see how seriously he takes his responsibilities as Commander in Chief. 

He has no higher priority than to protect this country, and to protect those who protect all of us. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

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