Secretary of Defense
Remarks at Memorial Day Observance
Arlington National Cemetery
Mr. President; Chairman and Mrs. Dempsey; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen:
To our Gold Star Families – the families of America’s fallen heroes, in attendance here, and across our grateful nation – it is truly our honor to be standing with you on this solemn, sacred day.
We your fellow Americans lack the words to describe what you feel today, because try as we may – and try as we do – we can never fully know. But we do know what your sacrifice means to us, to this nation, and to a world that still depends so much on American men and women in uniform for its security.
As we gather here this morning, I’m reminded of the words of one of our presidents, a veteran who himself rests not a 10-minute walk from here, President John F. Kennedy. In this very amphitheater, he once said, quote, “these quiet grounds, this cemetery and others like it all around the world, remind us with pride of our obligation and our opportunity.”
On a day set aside for Americans to honor and remember those who perished while serving our country, our obligation and our opportunity are one and the same. Our obligation is to give voice to the fallen, honor them, and share their stories of sacrifice and heroism. Our opportunity is to use this day to inspire new generations to understand the freedom they have been given, to grasp how and why it is theirs, and to dedicate themselves to pass it on to generations unborn.
Reflect, for a moment, on the way our nation’s flag is flown on Memorial Day. First it is hoisted briskly to the top, with the same clarity of purpose we see in all those who step forward to join our all-volunteer force. Then it is solemnly, soberly lowered to half-staff, a tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
But it doesn’t stay there. At noon, it is raised back toward the sky – signaling our will to recover after tragedy, and symbolizing the great strength and resilience that characterizes not only our nation, but also those who defend it, and their families.
So today, when we watch the American flag fully ascend once again, our thoughts will be with our servicemembers both lost and living – including the nearly 200,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines beyond our shores as we gather here, so ably protecting us far from home. They too join us in mourning the fallen. They too join us in celebrating our strength. And like those we remember today, they too serve in a long line of patriots who fought in places like Lexington and Concord; Gettysburg and Midway; and, more recently, Fallujah and Helmand – a legacy that has made our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known.
Troops of such caliber demand great leaders, and there’s no doubt they have one in our Commander-in-Chief. I see that every day. He knows well the challenges we must face, the obligations we must meet, and the opportunities we must seize in order to keep our nation safe and to make a better world for our children. And I see that he cares deeply about the safety, welfare, and dignity of our men and women in uniform and their families. For all that, and so much more, I am tremendously proud to serve as his Secretary of Defense.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my great privilege to introduce the President of the United States, Barack Obama.