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SPEECH | April 27, 2013

Memorial Day Remarks

Major General William GrimsleyMajor General William Grimsley
Chief of Staff, U.S. Strategic Command

Thank you for inviting me to join you today during this Memorial Day remembrance at this beautiful park on a beautiful day. Every time I visit the park, I walk by each panel of the original monument to read the names of the local heroes lost in WWII, and then stop by the statue of the Soldier and small child, with the names of those lost and missing from Korea and Viet Nam, which hopefully will some day also contain the names of the over 60 Nebraskans lost from our most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Omaha and the surrounding communities have borne a large burden of our Nation's fallen, from the Civil War forward - so it's fitting and right that we honor them all, recognizing that our liberties as Americans come at a price.

I think those men and women who, so long ago, imagined this holiday we now call Memorial Day, knew what they were doing when they designated this time of year as our time to honor the fallen. It is a time of renewal and strength after a long [winter?]. They must have imagined all the flowers in bloom, a million or more representing those lost in battles here and on almost every continent around the globe. They must have imagined the opportunity to tell the stories of the past to the American people who will pass these stories on to the children of tomorrow. Maybe that's what the Soldier in the statue is pointing out to the child.

Today we gather at cemeteries, monuments, and parks all over the country, march in parades in cities big and small from Hawaii to Virginia, North Dakota to Texas and we watch the annual Memorial Day concert on television. We do these things to honor the loyalty and bravery of our fallen in this noble calling - military service. While this day is typically spent recalling the valor of men and women who died in combat, we must never forget those quiet professionals who answered that noble calling to serve the people of the United States in peacetime as well. The history of our Nation and those who serve can be summed up in a short and simple, yet fitting phrase... they are ordinary people who by virtue of their service and sacrifice are extraordinary. Men like Army Chaplain, Captain Emil (A-Mill) Kapaun (Cup-pawn) who grew up on a farm in Pilsen, Kansas. His first calling was to God. God, he said, called him into the military service, so he joined the Army. Kapaun was sent to Korea in 1950 to provide comfort and counsel to the troops as a chaplain during the first months of the Korean War. The Soldiers quickly realized he was so much more than a chaplain. He was their "Soldier-Saint". On All Saints Day his unit came under heavy attack by Chinese forces. Kapaun had the chance to fall back to safety with a portion of his unit, but he chose to stay in the thick of the battle to minister to the dying and aid the wounded. He would brave a barrage of bullets, bounding from foxhole to foxhole to check on "his boys." Over and over he risked his life to retrieve the wounded or the bodies of the fallen. When the wounded were beyond saving, he gave them spiritual comfort. Despite finally being captured and in the midst of being marched away by a Chinese soldier at gunpoint, Kapaun saw an enemy Soldier with his weapon drawn and moments away from executing an American Soldier. Kapaun defiantly left his captor, pushed the enemy Soldier to the ground and picked the Soldier up from the ditch. The enemy troops were too stunned to react. Kapaun and Miller spent the remainder of their time in the war interned in a prisoner of war camp in North Korea, where Kapaun died there in 1951. He was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor by the President at the White House in April 12th of this year. What's amazing about this story is Kapaun did not shoulder a rifle or wield a bayonet. He carried a Bible and holy water. These were the weapons he used in battle and they were more effective than the bullets of a determined enemy. His death was a tragedy, but his life is what we must learn from.

As a BCT Commander in Iraq, SFC Paul Smith...

On Memorial Day, a tradition dictates that the Stars and Striped are raised briskly against the wind to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the position of half-staff where it remains only till noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million women and men who gave their lives in service of their Nation. At noon, their memory is raised by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty.

So many mothers and wives, husbands and fathers, extended family and friends do their duty every day to ensure their loved one is remembered. They carry on each day with pictures on mantels and mementos of a life not fully lived. They carry on understanding that their Soldier chose this life of service and thus they understood the potentiality of their death as a sacrifice for the sake of freedom. These men and women left behind, carry on their Soldier's message; raising-up their memory like an unfurled flag. Today we also honor the families of those lost, for you bear a burden that only you can comprehend. We are grateful for the support you gave your Soldier, so they could carry out the mission of protecting the rest of us.

It is our responsibility as citizens to remember the Nation's brave fallen men and women - whether they died on foreign lands in the heat of battle or after a lifetime in the uniform of our Army. Never forget the men and women who know all too much the cost of our freedom, for their service to this country is the greatest gift of all.

Again, thank you for inviting me to be a part of this ceremony. God bless those deployed today in harm's way providing us the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful day in our great nation, God bless her through these challenging times, and God bless each of you... Thank you.