DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT O. WORK:
To the family, friends, acquaintances, and comrades in arms of Sgt. Kyle White, good morning on this absolutely splendid day in May. It is a singular honor for me to represent Secretary [of Defense] Hagel, who is a former Army sergeant. He would be right here if he was in the country. But he is not in the country today and has asked me to represent him. And I do so with great honor.
And joining Chief Odierno, Undersecretary Carson, Sgt. Maj. Chandler, Gen. Paxton, veterans and current members of our Armed Forces, Soldiers of Chosen Company, and all those who know Sgt. White, as we gather here today to honor his extraordinary heroism.
Now quite frankly, there's a little more than I can add to the stirring account that Gen. Odierno gave of the battle of nine November 2007 and the selfless and heroic actions that Sgt. White performed that day, from which he was awarded our nation's highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor.
Nor can I improve on the heartfelt explanation of Undersecretary Carson who explained how Sgt. White embodies the very best of what makes all Soldiers, as well as Marines, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen so singularly special and part of the greatest armed forces that this world has ever seen.
So as I prepared for this speech, I asked myself: what might I add to this august gathering. And I decided to just pull on a little bit of the string that both the chief and the undersecretary talked about, the unbelievably small and extraordinary brotherhood that Sgt. White has entered, and what it means to all of us who have served our nation.
Now [Under]secretary Carson mentioned the first Medal of Honor was awarded in1863 in the midst of one of the greatest catastrophe our nation has ever had, our Civil War, and perhaps fittingly for the audience today, it was awarded to another soldier, the first one, Pvt. Jacob Parrott, Company K, 33rd Ohio Infantry, one of six survivors of the daring raid that the undersecretary talked about, sent 200 miles behind enemy lines to disrupt the Confederate railroad track.
Now since then, [perhaps] 40 million Americans, men and women, have either volunteered or been drafted and served in times of war, spanning from 1863 in the remainder of that bloody Civil War, to the Plains Wars, to the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, [Korea], Vietnam, the first Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, and in countless small bloody wars and battles around the globe.
Of those 40 million service men and women only 3,488, counting Sgt. White, have been awarded the Medal of Honor. And I want you to think about that for just one second, since 1863, we have awarded this medal less than 3,500 times, reserved for a very, very select few who have responded above and beyond the call of duty and as outlined so eloquently by Gen. Odierno and risked their lives in selfless acts of bravery. In all of World War II, only 464 medals were awarded. In Korea, 133. In Vietnam, 246. And of the 2.5 million American service members who have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since the terrible attacks of September 11, 2001, Sgt. White is the 14th recipient of this honor. That is why, by custom, every service member, regardless of rank, regardless of station, stands and salutes anyone who wears the pale blue medal adorned with stars around their necks.
It is also why we consider the Hall of Heroes such a hallowed and storied place. Because it represents the highest soldierly virtues of literally millions of men and women who have risked their own lives, and often given them, for their country and their brothers and sisters in arms in battle.
Sgt. Kyle [White], as the President of the United States said yesterday, and as recounted by Gen. Odierno today, your inspiring actions in that narrow pass in Afghanistan, in that cold day in November, have proven yourself worthy to be a member of this select group.
Secretary Hagel and I, and everyone in the department, regardless of whether they're a soldier, couldn't be prouder for you or your unit and your Army.
So this is a little unscripted, but I’ll ask Sgt. White to stand, face the crowd. And I'd ask that everyone who has served in uniform, and is either in uniform or not, to stand with me and salute this American hero today.
And finally, though they've been recognized here today several times, and I think [that] by his very actions that day in November, as well as the metal bracelet that Sgt. White wears around his wrist every day, I think I can confidently speak for him and to ask that we all pause once again and offer a moment of silence or prayers to the comrades that Sgt. White lost on that fateful day on nine November.
Capt. Ferrara, U.S. Army; Sgt. Mersman, U.S. Army; Cpl. Langevin, U.S. Army; Cpl. Roque, U.S. Army; Spc. Lancour, U.S. Army; and Sgt. Bocks, U.S. Marine Corps.
Sgt. White, these fine young men, your fellow warriors, your brothers in arms, although no longer of this Earth, are going to be with you forever. I'm sure they're toasting you now, applauding your life that you have lived since their deaths and cheering your future accomplishments.
After all, the very purpose of this award is to celebrate in both gratitude and remembrance.
So, Kyle, this award mark not only your bravery, but the bravery and memory of your fallen brothers in arms.
And I welcome all Americans to come to know your service, to know the exceptional courage you displayed on behalf of your fellow soldiers and Marines, and to witness the example you've set as one who answered the call to service, completed your mission, transitioned to civilian life with grace, purpose and honor.
Your story represents the very, very best of the American fighting men and women, and preserves the memory of your comrades. May your medal remind you of the tremendous good your service has brought thus far and of the limitless things that Secretary Hagel and I know that it will bring in the future.
On behalf of Secretary Hagel, thank you, Kyle. May God bless you and your family and all those like you in the greatest Army on the planet, who have volunteered to serve and fight our nation's foes wherever they may be found.
Thank you all and God bless you. (Applause.)