Secretary of Defense
Honor Fallen Service Members on Memorial Day Wreath-laying Ceremony
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.*
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford, Gold Star families, everyone.
We gather here today with a shared attitude of gratitude.
Twenty-Three centuries ago, so Plutarch tell us, an old Spartan King observed, it is not the places that grace men but men grace the places. Today we know that he was right. More than a century ago, this 624-acre plot of land was a plantation on the Potomac. Scenic, but hardly sacred. Now, these fields hold the greatest treasure of our nation. America’s courageous, dead. Those who today we pause to remember.
Not far from here lies the marker of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a Civil War infantry veteran, who later rose to be a Supreme Court justice. Holmes said those who serve in our military have hearts that are “touched with fire. Having known great things,” he said, they are “content with silence.”
If you have ever known one of the fallen, you have known greatness. But it is hard to be content with their silence, for we miss them. The empty chair on a holiday, empty every day. The photograph that goes wherever you do. The picture fades, but the person in it does not.
Their fighting spirit persists, passed down through the ranks, their spirit echoes in those who serve today in the air, on land, and at sea.
In a world awash with change, some things stand firm. Some things are as Plato said: Good and true and beautiful.
The kid on the line who never got a chance to grow old will always be there to teach us that suffering has meaning if it is accepted out of love for others.
To the families of the fallen, both here and at home, no words will ease your pain. But I beg you, let it have meaning. Unite your sorrow to their awesome purpose. People do grace places, but people also grace people. We are blessed by our time with those now asleep, the mighty and the gentle.
Let us share their story with others. Then, like the poet**, we all can say:
Sleep, soldiers! still in honored rest,
Your truth and valor wearing.
The bravest are the tenderest,–
The loving are the daring.
Now ladies and gentlemen it is my great honor to introduce our Command-in-Chief, President of the United States Donald Trump.
*quote from: Laurence Binyon
**Poem/Poet: The Song of the Camp—1856 by Bayard Taylor
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