An official website of the United States Government 
Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

.gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Veterans Day Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the 40th Anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (As Delivered)

Thank you, Secretary Hagel, for that very generous introduction. And thank you as well for your brave service to our country in Vietnam—and your lifetime of leadership by example as a public servant. 

And after such a great introduction, I probably should just sit down.

Let me also thank Secretary McDonough for your extraordinary efforts on behalf of America’s veterans. And ladies and gentlemen, we are really, really fortunate to have Secretary McDonough in the position that he is in. He continues to do extraordinary things on behalf of our veterans and our family members.
Veterans, service members, families of those who have served, and especially our Gold Star families and our POW/MIA families: I’m deeply honored to be here with you today. 

And on behalf of the Department of Defense, let me simply say: thank you for all that you have given for the cause of freedom.

Today, I’d like to talk about the legacy of those who served our country—and the legacy that they leave for future generations. 

And it is fitting that we should gather here to do so. 

For 40 years, this granite wall has never been just about history. 

This solemn place has beckoned visitors to feel the profound connection between the past and the present in the simplest of ways: by reaching out a hand and touching a name. 

Standing at the wall, hand outstretched, we feel that the sacrifices of these 58,281 fallen Americans remain with us. 

They shape who we are today. And they urge us to live up to America’s full promise. 

To every veteran, to every man and woman who has served or still does: Because you put on the cloth of our nation, America is safer and stronger. 

That is the lasting legacy of your service. 

And it demands our lasting gratitude. 

You know, when I think about what those who serve give to us all, I think about the quiet devotion and compassion of an American medic who visited this wall when it was first dedicated. 

He searched anxiously for the name of a GI who he had treated in Vietnam and whose wounds had always haunted him. And so row by row, he slowly realized that the GI’s name wasn’t on the wall. 

And the medic cried out, realizing that his patient had survived.

I think about Alfred Rascon, a son of Chihuahua, Mexico. 

In Vietnam in 1966, Specialist Four Rascon found his platoon under assault. Defying orders, he ran toward the firefight to help. Surrounded by teammates and severely injured himself, he threw his body in front of a comrade to shield him from enemy fire. 

Incredibly, Specialist Rascon repeated this act of bravery two more times—covering two other teammates with his own body to absorb the explosions. 

And so that day, a young man who wasn’t born in the United States showed us the very best of America. 

You know, he recovered from his injuries, and he became an American citizen. 

And amazingly, he volunteered for another tour in Vietnam. 

And he continued to serve his country, and eventually became the director of the Selective Service System. 

Somehow, the request for Specialist Rascon’s Medal of Honor got lost. 

But the soldiers in his platoon never forgot his courage. And so they kept pushing. 

And more than three decades later, Specialist Rascon finally received his Medal of Honor.

When he accepted it, he said, “The honor is not really mine.” 

And so he asked the platoon-mates who were there with him that day to stand up and to be recognized.

I think about Vietnam veterans like Lola Olsmith, who joined the military after seeing a recruiting ad for Army nurses on TV. 

She was soon sent to a hospital in Vietnam, working 12-hour shifts in recovery and surgical intensive care. She and her fellow nurses cared for both American GIs and Vietnamese prisoners, and they would travel into villages and treat anyone who needed it. 

And one night during the Tet Offensive, when an explosion tore through their building, the young nurse lifted up a pregnant Vietnamese woman by herself and sheltered her under a bed for protection.

So Lola Olsmith had found her calling. After she came home, she stayed on as an Army nurse, treating patients all over the country and rising through the ranks as a nurse recruiter. 

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Colonel Olsmith found herself treating the war-wounded overseas once again, a quarter-century after she went to Vietnam.

And years later, reflecting on her military career, Colonel Olsmith simply said, “I’m just very proud to be part of it.”

And I think about one more Vietnam veteran: my uncle. 

Now, I come from a family with a proud history of military service, and one of my uncles served in Vietnam as a communicator. 

He was the very first African-American Green Beret that I ever saw. And so he came home wearing his jump boots, and that green beret, and those jump wings. He was very impressive. My uncle was deeply and quietly proud of what he had contributed. 

And his pride helped to inspire me to serve as well. 

My uncle showed me how meaningful service could be. And he showed me the way that one act of service can lead to many, many more. 

So let us never underestimate what service can mean. 

Never forget the ripples set in motion by the Americans who fought in Vietnam—including veterans who may never have fully realized what a difference they made to those around them. 

Because service lifts up others. It enriches your own life. And it makes you a part of a proud American story, part of the solemn duty that has moved so many patriots across the generations: to leave this country better than you found it. 

Now, for four decades, this memorial has brought Americans together, no matter what they thought about the war in Vietnam. 

And in that time, another generation of veterans has come home. I’d like to recognize all those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 


Each of you is also part of that story of service. 

In 2008, one of my fellow Iraq vets came to this sacred place. And he left a pair of his combat boots at this wall—size 12—and along with the boots, he left a note on Marine Corps stationery. 

And he wrote, “Brothers, these are my lucky boots. They got me through two tours on the ground in Iraq. I figured you’d appreciate them more than the garbage man.”

And his note continued: “The truth of the matter is, we owe you an awful lot. If your generation of Marines had not come home to jeers, insults, and protests, my generation would not have come home to thanks, handshakes, and hugs.”


And he ended by saying, “Rest easy, gents.” 

And he signed it as Frank, 1st Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps. 

And as Frank said, American troops should always come home to thanks, and handshakes, and hugs. 

And as we know, after the Vietnam War, that wasn’t always the case. Yet so many veterans worked to build bridges, to heal the nation’s wounds, and to ensure that their successors would be treated with dignity and respect. 

Let me recognize Jan Scruggs and Bob Doubek for their tireless work to build this memorial and its 40-year legacy: a legacy of healing, a legacy of remembrance, and a legacy of understanding. 

To all our veterans: By lending your talents to the United States military, you made us stronger and smarter. By serving with courage and compassion, you set an example for the next generation. And by giving so much, you reminded us that this democracy is worth defending. 

And you can see the legacy of all those who so nobly served when you speak with the extraordinary men and women in uniform today. 

When I visit our military installations at home and around the world, I’m privileged to see firsthand the best fighting force in human history—and how it has been shaped by those who came before. 

I see young service members’ relentless drive for excellence, passed down to them by mentors who pushed them to be their very best. 

I see their hunger to learn from the conflicts of the past so that we can win the wars of the future. 

And I hear their stories of the giants upon whose shoulders they stand—the role models who inspired them to join a proud tradition of professionalism and devotion to democracy.

You know, that same professionalism keeps our satellites soaring through space and our submarines plunging under the ocean. 

It lifted up 124,000 people to safety last year in Afghanistan. 

And it’s behind the extraordinary, round-the-clock logistical operation to rush urgently needed security assistance to the brave defenders of Ukraine. 


That devotion gives life to the ironclad commitments that we make to our allies, and to our promises to the American people that we will always protect this country, and we will always defend this democracy. 

Now, these aren’t just words. 

These are vows.

And we can make them real because of the long, unbroken tradition of sacrifice that joins those who have served to those who serve now, and those who will step up to serve in the years to come.

And for that, we owe our veterans not only our deepest gratitude but also our unwavering commitment to the democratic values that you have been so proud to defend. 

Thank you, to all of our veterans, for answering your country’s call. 

We will never forget what you have given us.

May God bless all of those who have served and all who still serve. 

And may God continue to bless the United States of America. 

Thank you very much.