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Wreath Laying at Arlington

Aired May 31, 2004 - 11:15   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go live now to Arlington National Cemetery and listen in to the ceremonies taking place. Here is General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the name of the Lord of Hosts. And we pray for personal and national redemption in the gracious name of our redeemer and our savior. Amen.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, Secretary and Mrs. Rumsfeld, Secretary and Mrs. Thompson, Secretary and Mrs. Principi, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us on this important day of remembrance.

Most days I pass by this cemetery twice, on the way to work at the Pentagon and on the way home. And I think Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most awe inspiring places. It's certainly one of the most meaningful to those of us who wear the uniform. It's a reminder that our freedom is a most precious gift, bought at a very dear price: the lives of America's finest sons and daughters. As you all know, next week marks the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy and the nation's new World War II Memorial was dedicated this weekend.

Back in 1964, the 20th anniversary of D-Day, Walter Cronkite interviewed President Eisenhower who at the time -- who was previously the Supreme Allied Commander for that operation. And he interviewed him at a cemetery near Omaha Beach. President Eisenhower said, quote, "Mamie and I get our greatest pleasure from our grandchildren. When I look at all these graves, I think of the parents back in the States whose only son is buried here. Because of their sacrifice, they don't have the pleasure of grandchildren.

And because of their sacrifice, my grandchildren are growing up in freedom." Today our servicemen and women, some of whom are the grandchildren of World War II veterans, bravely and selflessly defend that same freedom. They understand very well the importance of that duty, especially at this critical time in our nation's history. I welcome all of you to this hallowed ground today as we remember all those who sacrificed so that our grandchildren grow up in freedom.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Rumsfeld.


Thank you so very much. Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, members of the Cabinet. Mr. President and Mrs. Bush thank you so much for being here today and for your truly courageous leadership of our country.

Your responsibilities as President are enormous in peacetime. In time of war, they are such that I can only say, thank you for all you do for all of us.

General Dick Myers, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we thank you for your outstanding service to the country. Chaplain, generals, friends and families of the heroes we remember today, veterans of past conflicts, men and women of the armed forces, we come each year at this time to this place to remember the heroes of our heritage. Those who from every war and each generation gave their lives in service to our country. And it's important that we do so.

They came from every corner of America and from other countries as well. Each had family, friends and ordinary lives. Yet each was a part of the truly extraordinary changes in the course of human history. What has endured for the most part was not the battles in which they fell, but the idea for which they fought. The central idea of our nation -- that freedom is the right of every person, that it is worth fighting for, even dying for.

And it is each generation's charge to insure that freedom endures. The heroes who rest in these hills understood that, and so they fought, first on our own land and later across the globe. And that idea, freedom, is why America's young men and young women fight today.

It's my honor to introduce one who has worked tirelessly and boldly to defend our freedom and to keep the lamp of liberty burning brightly for us and for the world. Ladies and gentlemen, our Commander in Chief, George W. Bush, President of the United States.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Thank you, all. Please be seated. Thank you all very much. Thank you -- thank you all. Welcome.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your great leadership as secretary of defense for our country.

General Myers, members of the United States military, veterans, honored guests and fellow Americans, this morning I had the honor of placing a wreath before the Tomb of the Unknowns. This custom is observed every Memorial Day on behalf of the American people as a mark of gratitude and respect. And when this ceremony is concluded and all of us have gone on our way, the honor guard will keep watch over the Tomb.

Every hour of every day, on the coldest nights, in the hardest rain, there is a sentinel of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Standing Guard. The soldiers entrusted with that duty count it a privilege. And today, as we reflect on the men and women who have died in the defense of America, all of us count it a privilege to be citizens of the country they served.

In the military tradition, no one is left behind on the field of battle. And our nation is determined to account for all of the missing. The same spirit can be seen in the respect we show to each life laid down for this nation. We receive them in sorrow, and we take them to an honored place to rest. At this and other cemeteries across our country and at cemeteries abroad where heroes fell, America acknowledges a debt that is beyond our power to repay. This weekend we dedicated the World War II Memorial, which will stand forever as a tribute to the generation that fought that war, and the more than 400,000 Americans who fell.

Some here today can turn their minds back across 60 years and see the face of a buddy who never made it home. You are veterans who have not forgotten your comrades. And America will always honor the achievements and the character of your brave generation.

Through our history, America has gone to war reluctantly. Because we have known the costs of war. And the war on terror we're fighting today has brought great costs of its own. Since the hour this nation was attacked, we have seen the character of the men and women who wear our country's uniform in places like Kabul and Kandahar and Mosul and Baghdad. We have seen their decency and their brave spirit. Because of their fierce courage, America is safer. Two terror regimes are gone forever. And more than 50 million souls now live in freedom.

Those who have fought these battles and served this cause can be proud of all they have achieved. And these veterans of battle will carry with them for all their days, the memory of the ones who did not live to be called veterans. They will remember young soldiers like Captain Josh Byers, a West Point man born in South Carolina who died in Iraq. When this son of missionaries was given command of 120-man combat unit, he wrote this to his parents, "I will give the men everything I have to give. I love them already just because they're mine. I pray with all my heart that I will be able to take every single one of them home safe when we finish our mission here."

Sergeant Major Michael Stack who was laid to rest at Arlington wore the uniform for 28 years and is remembered as a soldier's soldier. The sergeant major must have been quite a guy. When he was a young platoon sergeant, the recruits gave him a nickname, "No Slack Billy Jack Stack."

By all accounts he was the kind of man you want in charge of a tough situation. And by the account of his mother he finished his good-byes with these words, "Mom, I'm going because I believe in what I am doing. And if I don't come back, we will meet in a better place."

Those who risk their lives on our behalf or often very clear about what matters most in their own lives. And they tell us to those they love.

Master Sergeant Kelly Hornbeck of the special forces was killed in action last January south of Samara. To his parents back in Fort Worth, Texas he wrote this, "I am not afraid and neither should either of you be. For I trust in my God and my training, two powerful forces that cannot be fully measured." After Private First Class Jesse Gibbons of Springfield, Missouri was lost last May, his family received a letter he had written to them in the event of his death. He wrote this to his son, Dakota, "You taught me that life isn't so serious and sometimes you just have to play. You have a big, beautiful heart. Through your life, you need to keep it open and follow it. I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can play."

To his wife, Melissa, Private Gibbons wrote, "Do me a favor. After you tuck the children in, give them hugs and kisses for me. Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don't forget to smile."

This is the quality of the people in our uniform. And this is the loss to our nation. Markers on these hills record the names of more than 280,000 men and women. Each was once or still is the most important person in someone's life. With each loss in war, the world changed forever for the family and friends left behind. Each loss left others go on, counting the years of separation and living in the hope of reunion.

Although the burden of grief can become easier to bear, always there's the memory of another time and the feeling of sadness over an unfinished life. Yet the completeness of a life is not measured in length only.

It is measured in the deeds and commitments that give a life its purpose. And the commitment of these lives was clear to all. They defended our nation. They liberated the oppressed. They served the cause of peace.

And all Americans who have known the loss and sadness of war, whether recently or long ago, can know this. The person they love and miss is honored and remembered by the United States of America. May God bless our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please join us in the benediction.

Now may the grace, the blessing and the peace of God rest and abide with you all now and forever more as we return to our various destinations, help us to shine the light of freedom in our communities and throughout the world so that others may see our nation's good works and glorify our father, which is in heaven.

Keep us ever mindful of our individual and national duty to preserve and protect that great heritage given us through the toil, the tears and the blood of generations of America's heroes. With grateful hearts and in silence, we remember them now. Amen.


ANNOUNCER: Please remain standing as the colors are retired.

KAGAN: We've been listening in to the ceremonies on this Memorial Day 2004 from Arlington National Cemetery. President Bush speaking, saying that on this day America acknowledges a debt that is beyond our power to repay, the men and women who lost their lives in fighting battles around the world in defense of America.


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