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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery (As Delivered)

Mr. President; Madam Vice President and Mr. Emhoff; General Brown and Mrs. Brown: I am honored to be here with you.

Distinguished guests, Service members, my fellow veterans, ladies and gentlemen: Thanks for letting us share this Memorial Day with you.

To our Gold Star family members, and to everyone mourning a fallen American hero today: Please know that we bow our heads in sorrow along with you. We know that you live with loss every day, and not just Memorial Day.

I had the privilege of serving in the United States Army for more than four decades. And every Memorial Day, I remember those who gave all in the defense of our country, including the battle buddies who served and fought alongside me.

We got through. They didn't. And that pain will never go away.

I could tell their stories for hour after hour. But for today, I hope that the story of one fallen American hero may stand for so many more.

So on this Memorial Day, my thoughts are with the family of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Stevon Booker, of Apollo, Pennsylvania.

Staff Sergeant Booker was a tank commander in the 3rd Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. His company commander once said that Sergeant Booker "looked, acted, and sounded like the Abrams tank that he commanded." He embodied the power and the pride of the United States Army.

And during the race towards Baghdad, Sergeant Booker's unit came under fire. He rushed to protect his teammates and his platoon's flank. In the heat of the fight, he even fired back with his own personal weapon, lying exposed on top of his tank turret for mile after mile.

Staff Sergeant Booker was one of the first Americans killed in the Iraq War.

And I know firsthand how tough the fighting was that day.

It's only fitting that the Army has named its newest armored combat vehicle the M10 Booker. That name honors both Staff Sergeant Booker and Private Robert Booker of Nebraska, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his stunning battlefield heroism in Tunisia in 1943 during World War II.

America's security depends on the bravery of people like Staff Sergeant Booker and Private Booker — and on the courage and character of our Service members. And it depends on the stamina and strength of their families and loved ones.

We know how much our troops and their families do every day, in so many unsung ways. And we know the dangers.

Defending our republic carries risk. And that goes beyond the dangers of combat.

By necessity, U.S. military training is hard and challenging. Our operations worldwide can put our troops in harm's way. And we still lose too many of our Service members and veterans to suicide.

So our troops and their families don't just sacrifice during wartime. Our military families know the long deployments and the painful absences. They know the pride that never fades, and the worry that never leaves.

So to our Blue Star and Gold Star families: You make our national defense possible. Our arms and technical — and technology are the envy of the world. But in the end, America's greatest strategic asset will always be our people.

So let us always remember our fallen heroes. Let us always strive to defend the democracy for which they fought and died.

They did their duty. And we must too.

Ladies and gentlemen, our Commander-in-Chief has always stood up for our troops, our military families, and our veterans.

It is my honor to introduce the President of the United States.