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Transcript

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

May 31, 2021
Secretary Of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, General Milley, distinguished guests, service members, Gold Star family members, my fellow veterans, ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for joining us on this solemn day in this solemn place.

We come together to remember, to renew our sense of common purpose, and to reach out to those who have long mourned, and to those who newly grieve.

Mr. President, in thinking about joining you here today, I reflected on a meeting I held a few days ago with some of our Gold Star and surviving families.

One of them was Shannon Slutman, the wife of a Marine reservist. They have three children. Her husband Chris was killed by a suicide bomber on April 8, 2019, in Bagram, Afghanistan.

The first thing that she said in our meeting was, simply, “I’m going to try not to cry.” And she told us that, before her husband left on one of his deployments, she sat him down and said, “God forbid something happens to you, but if it does, where do you want me to bury you?” And he told her, “I don’t care—I just want to be near you.” And today, Staff Sergeant Chris Slutman rests here in Arlington, in Section 60—alongside so many of his brothers and sisters in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice in action in this longest of American wars.

Our Gold Star and surviving families wage a fight that goes on long after the funerals. And it is our sacred duty to do more to ease the burden that they shoulder, on Memorial Day and every day. Because for as long as America has sent our sons and daughters into harm’s way, those on the home front have also been on the front lines.

Mr. President, you know firsthand the pride of seeing a loved one put on our country’s uniform. You also know what it means to wait and worry while a son serves in a battle zone far away. And you know what it means to commit American troops to fight—and you understand the mixture of pride and stress and fear and love that all our military families live with.

As a former commander, I know these feelings myself.

For the loved ones of those who have fallen, let me simply say: We know the depth of your sacrifice. But we can never truly know the depth of your loss.

What we can do is honor the memory of those you lost—by caring for those who mourn them… by seeking to perfect our union and defend our democracy… and by striving to live our lives in ways that advance the ideals for which they gave their own.

It is indeed an honor to be here with all of you today.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.