He did say the oldest, didn't he? I thought I heard that. He didn't say the most senior. He didn't say the most experienced. He said the oldest. Of course he's correct.
General McNeill, it's good to see you, sir. General Caldwell, I thank you so much for those kind words and for your service. Distinguished guests all gathered here on this lovely day. It's a privilege for me and an honor to be with you all. It's good to be at Fort Bragg in this great state.
A very, very long time ago, back in 1942, I lived in North Carolina briefly when my father was in the Navy in World War II, near the coast in a place called Elizabeth City; and I've had a chance to meet some of the veterans and paratroopers from that war, World War II, as well as other combat veterans from the 82nd Airborne in its many campaigns. Gentlemen, it's an honor to be with you today, to thank you, to watch you march, and to salute you for your service.
In 1784 -- and I was not around then; I just want to make sure General Caldwell knows that -- Benjamin Franklin was reflecting on the challenges of defending a territory from attack; and he foresaw the potential of, and I quote:
"Ten thousand men descending from the clouds and doing an infinite deal of mischief."
Of course it would be at least another 150 years before the 82nd would be designated the U.S. Army's first airborne division. This division's change from “leg” infantry to paratroopers occurred as a result of the emergence of new technology -- the transport airplane. And today the 82nd continues to be on the cutting edge of a transforming army -- an army that is becoming more agile, more innovative, and more lethal, as it must.
As America's longstanding strategic response force, the 82nd Airborne Division needs no lessons in agility. Since the attacks of September 11th a new generation of paratroopers is writing its own chapter in this division's long and storied history.
Consider what you've accomplished in less than four years:
You pursued and routed the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan where terrorists plotted the mass murderers of our countrymen, some 3,000 on September 11th;
You overcame sand storms and death squads in Iraq to topple a dangerous and vicious regime; and
You helped the newly liberated people defy terrorist threats to successfully elect democratic governments -- developments that have captured the imagination of reformers and countries across the Middle East.
No fighting forces in the world have done more to liberate people that they had never met than the United States military. You can be proud of the legacy and the mission you've been entrusted with -- and the American people are proud of you.
Your legacy includes an episode from World War II that's less well known outside the division. In September of 1944, the 82nd Airborne parachuted behind enemy lines in the Netherlands as part of a mission called Operation Market Garden. They fought brilliantly and bravely with lightly armed paratroopers holding off Nazi panzers for days at a time. Today's 82nd commemorates that heroism every time you jump into the Holland or Nijmegen jump zones -- drop zones -- just a few miles from here I'm told.
Forced to fall back -- at the cost of many casualties -- over the next few months, those paratroopers and their comrades would regroup, win many battles, and ultimately help to defeat the Third Reich. And Germany, along with Japan, began that process of becoming a free society -- and over time our allies against the communists during the Cold War.
In the global struggle against extremism, our Coalition has achieved -- and will yet achieve -- great victories. We've made solid progress. But let there be no doubt, that -- as in the past -- there will be discouraging days, and times when our purpose and our potential for success will be called into question. It has always been so.
Consider first our enemies. Much has been made of the latest string of suicide attacks being waged by the terrorists in Iraq. It is important to remember that in World War II, the Japanese Empire, knowing that it was losing, sent kamikaze pilots to sink U.S. ships and to kill thousands of sailors. And Adolf Hitler, holed up in his bunker in Berlin, proclaimed that if he could not prevail, he would rather see all of Germany and its people destroyed.
So suicide attacks, whether in Okinawa or in Baghdad today, are not a sign of strength. They're a sign of desperation. And the Zarqawis and the bin Ladens, just as the tyrants and fascists before them, have nothing to offer but death and misery and terror. They try to destroy things they could never build, and they try to kill people they could never persuade.
They tried to stop free elections in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and they failed. They have tried to ignite a civil war in Iraq, and they have failed. They have tried to stop the Iraqis from joining the new government and from volunteering to serve in the Iraqi security forces, and at that they have failed as well.
Consider the terrorist Zarqawi, who recently advocated killing innocent Muslim women and children to advance his cause. Reminiscent of Hitler in his bunker, this violent extremist, failing to achieve his military and political objectives, now appears committed to trying to destroy everything and everyone around him.
History teaches us that this kind of evil over time fails, and it will.
Because of the bravery and the skill and the professionalism of the men and women in uniform, we have every reason to be confident of the future. Your fellow citizens will remember what you have accomplished in the years ahead.
I'm told that seven paratroopers in this division have received the Silver Star for gallantry in combat. The citations for those awards invariably describe soldiers even after sustaining wounds, exposing themselves to fire repeatedly to save comrades and to complete the mission. There are in this division and across the military countless more acts of bravery and sacrifice. There are soldiers who have been wounded in combat and I've had the privilege of meeting many of them at Walter Reed. Often their first thought is to get back to their units and to the fight.
Men like Specialist George Perez -- who after months of recovery and several operations -- rejoined the 82nd and jumped with his new prosthetic leg. I am told he is now slated to rejoin his fellow paratroopers in Afghanistan in the weeks ahead.
We are profoundly blessed to live in a country that produces such men and women. Some, like those of you here today, are highly trained warriors -- the best in the world. Others are private citizens, like those passengers who boarded United Flight 93 on September 11th -- never imagining that later that morning they would sacrifice their lives in a field over Pennsylvania -- to prevent terrorists from killing still more of their fellow citizens on that tragic day.
It's the steadfastness and the common sense and the decency of free people that make me so confident in the outcome of this struggle. As we have seen, the great sweep of human history is for freedom, and we are on freedom's side. Let there be no doubt.
So I thank you, I thank your families. I thank you for your service and your sacrifice, and your families for their service and sacrifice for they serve as well.
May God bless you all, and may God bless our wonderful country. “All the way -- Airborne.”