USA — Leaders Salute Fallen Troops at Arlington National Cemetery

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2010 — Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden today hailed the unselfish ser­vice and sac­ri­fices of past and present gen­er­a­tions of U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers dur­ing the annu­al Memo­r­i­al Day obser­vance held at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery.

“Col­lec­tive­ly, the gen­er­a­tion of sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines who have served and sac­ri­ficed for us are the heart and soul, and I would say, spine, of this nation,” Biden said. “And as a nation, we pause today to remem­ber them; they gave their lives ful­fill­ing their oath to this nation and to us. “And in doing so,” he con­tin­ued, “they impart­ed a respon­si­bil­i­ty on us to rec­og­nize, to respect, to hon­or and to care for those who risked their lives so that we can live our lives.”

Biden, the keynote speak­er at the obser­vance held in the cemetery’s Memo­r­i­al Amphithe­ater, was joined by Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The vice pres­i­dent pre­vi­ous­ly laid a cer­e­mo­ni­al wreath at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns, which con­tains the remains of uniden­ti­fied sol­diers from World War I, World War II and the Kore­an War. More than 300,000 peo­ple rest in peace at Arling­ton, includ­ing vet­er­ans from all of the nation’s wars – from the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion through Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden said he’d met with a group of Gold Star Moth­ers at the White House ear­li­er today. Gold Star Moth­ers is an orga­ni­za­tion of moth­ers who’ve lost a son or a daugh­ter in mil­i­tary ser­vice to the coun­try.

The Gold Star fam­i­lies “know all too well the price of their loved ones’ patri­o­tism,” Biden said. “None,” he said, “should be asked to sac­ri­fice that much.”

Biden observed that many peo­ple in the amphithe­ater pos­si­bly were await­ing the return of loved ones deployed over­seas in harm’s way. Oth­ers, he added, may have wait­ed in vain. “To those who have lost a loved one in the ser­vice of our nation, I recall a famous head­stone in Ire­land,” Biden said. “And the head­stone reads as fol­lows: ‘Death Leaves a Heartache No One Can Heal; Love Leaves a Mem­o­ry No One Can Steal.’

“No one can steal the mem­o­ry from you,” Biden con­tin­ued. And the pain and heartache now felt by the sur­vivors of depart­ed mil­i­tary mem­bers, he said, even­tu­al­ly will “be replaced by the joy­ful mem­o­ry of the son or daugh­ter, hus­band, wife, father, moth­er that you loved so dear­ly, and lost.”

Memo­r­i­al Day “is a day in which sor­row mix­es with incred­i­ble pride,” Biden said. “We mourn those we’ve lost and we hold fast to their mem­o­ries and we take pride – great pride – in the lives they’ve lived and the ser­vice they’ve pro­vid­ed.”

Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers who serve and sac­ri­fice on far-flung bat­tle­fields are moti­vat­ed by love – not hate, Biden said. “Love is why we’re here today,” he said, “to show our love for the men and women who died show­ing their love for this great coun­try and [to] hon­or their fam­i­lies who share that love even more deeply.”

Biden won­dered aloud what pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers might think of today’s world that’s been made small­er — and some­times more tur­bu­lent — by glob­al­iza­tion. “And as the world around us shrinks it means trou­ble halfway around the world can – and will – vis­it us, no mat­ter how high our walls or how wide our oceans,” Biden said. “Our men and women in uni­form know full well that the promise and the per­il of this time have nev­er been greater; the threats to Amer­i­can secu­ri­ty are more wide­spread, geo­graph­i­cal­ly, than ever before.” Cur­rent threats to Amer­i­ca, Biden said, include the spread of weapons of mass destruc­tion and dan­ger­ous dis­ease, eco­nom­ic dis­lo­ca­tions, a grow­ing gap between the rich and poor, eth­nic ani­mosi­ties in failed states and rad­i­cal fun­da­men­tal­ism.

Today’s gen­er­a­tion of U.S. ser­vice­men and women now “stands watch, pro­tect­ing America’s inter­ests against all of these new threats,” Biden said, “and it will take — and it has tak­en — equal­ly great sac­ri­fice as those who have gone before them.”

Amer­i­ca has lost 4,391 ser­vice­mem­bers in Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom and dur­ing fol­low-on oper­a­tions in Iraq, Biden said, and 1,074 troops have died in Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom and fol­low-on oper­a­tions in Afghanistan.

These depart­ed ser­vice­mem­bers “were the best of us; they were our blood … and trea­sure,” Biden said. Amer­i­can force of arms, he said, has pro­tect­ed America’s free­doms and way of life since the nation was estab­lished. That will not change, he said.

And, as the con­flicts in Iraq and Afghanistan con­tin­ue, the U.S. gov­ern­ment, Biden said, has “a sacred oblig­a­tion to pro­vide these war­riors with every­thing they need to com­plete their mis­sion, and every­thing they need – and I might add, deserve – when they come home.”

Today’s ser­vice­mem­bers, as were their pre­de­ces­sors, are “bright, edu­cat­ed and com­mit­ted,” Biden said. And the source of America’s ulti­mate strength, he said, emanates from its val­ues.

“In uphold­ing our val­ues, we’re made stronger,” Biden said, not­ing rad­i­cal fun­da­men­tal­ists want “to change what we val­ue, to change how we live our lives, to change what it means to be an Amer­i­can.”

How­ev­er, Amer­i­ca is defend­ed by “the finest mil­i­tary the world has ever pro­duced — peri­od,” Biden said. And, America’s ser­vice­mem­bers at rest at Arling­ton and else­where, he said, have fought and sac­ri­ficed for their fel­low coun­try­men.

“They lived with integri­ty; they served nobly; they gave every­thing,” Biden said. “They fought for what they believed in and maybe most impor­tant­ly, they believed in some­thing big­ger than them­selves.

“They believed in all of you, they believed in all of us and they believed in Amer­i­ca,” the vice pres­i­dent said. “So on this day, this solemn day, let us strive once again to be indi­vid­u­als in a nation wor­thy of that belief.”

Lynn’s and Mullen’s remarks pre­ced­ed Biden’s.

“We gath­er today to hon­or our fall­en in a sacred place,” Lynn said. “Arling­ton Ceme­tery stands as one of our nation’s great­est sym­bols of the sac­ri­fices made for our free­dom and our way of life. We have car­ried our fall­en heroes to these fields for 146 years.”

Arlington’s “rows of mar­ble head­stones,” Lynn con­tin­ued, “are a tes­ta­ment to how one gen­er­a­tion defends the next; to how our nation is built upon unimag­in­able hero­ism and sac­ri­fice; and to how these sac­ri­fices stretch from our fore­fa­thers to the present day.”

Less vis­i­ble at Arling­ton, he said, are the sac­ri­fices made by the sur­viv­ing loved ones of depart­ed ser­vice­mem­bers.

“For every fall­en hero laid to rest there is a moth­er and father who will not see their child through life’s mile­stones,” Lynn said. “For most, there is a spouse who must live with­out the spouse they chose. And for many there is a child who will not have a par­ent to guide them.”

The sac­ri­fices of war, Lynn said, rip­ple out­ward like water splashed by a stone. “So today we hon­or not only those who made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice; we hon­or all those who have shared the loss,” he said.

Ser­vice­mem­bers who’ve fall­en in Iraq or Afghanistan are laid to rest at Arling­ton in Sec­tion 60. The peo­ple buried there rep­re­sent every race and creed, Lynn observed, not­ing the head­stones bear sym­bols of sev­er­al reli­gions.

“Their graves are topped by the cross, the cres­cent moon and star, [and] the Star of David,” he said.

Arlington’s fall­en ser­vice­mem­bers “reflect the more per­fect union they died to defend,” Lynn said. “In Arling­ton – like nowhere else – we can see free­dom blos­som and know its price.”

Mullen echoed Lynn’s sen­ti­ments.

“Every year since Civ­il War recon­struc­tion Amer­i­cans have set aside this day to pay trib­ute to ser­vice and to sac­ri­fice,” Mullen said. “No place, more than Arling­ton, reminds me of what we owe them and their fam­i­lies for what they have giv­en to us.”

Around the globe — on the land, on the sea and in the sky — gen­er­a­tions of young Amer­i­cans “have fought for each oth­er, fought for their fam­i­lies and fought for us,” the admi­ral said. “Now they peace­ful­ly rest in ceme­ter­ies, unmarked bat­tle­field graves and in the deep­est oceans around the world.”

Each servicemember’s gravesite “enshrines a unique sto­ry and we remem­ber the sac­ri­fice, the human­i­ty and the ser­vice each name rep­re­sents,” the admi­ral said.

Mullen recalled that the famous World War II cor­re­spon­dent Ernie Pyle would often come upon let­ters from home, blank writ­ing paper, pho­tographs and oth­er per­son­al items belong­ing to ser­vice­mem­bers that were killed in action.

“I believe each sto­ry, each let­ter, each item they’d car­ried sends a pow­er­ful mes­sage,” Mullen said. “It’s not about how they died, but how they lived and what they cared for.” Times have changed, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are dif­fer­ent than past con­flicts, the admi­ral said, not­ing today’s troops may car­ry few­er phys­i­cal keep­sakes than their fore­bears did.

“But they will always car­ry and cher­ish the love of their fam­i­ly, the respect of their fel­low cit­i­zens and an abid­ing hope for a safe return,” he said.

The admi­ral recalled what an Army cor­po­ral had writ­ten to his fam­i­ly in his final let­ter before he was killed in Afghanistan.

Mullen said the cor­po­ral wrote: “ ‘Know that you all are the rea­son that I am here and to give my life for that is noth­ing to me.’ ”

At Arling­ton, “cen­turies guard the sto­ries of those who gave their lives; those who will­ing­ly sac­ri­ficed all that they car­ry,” Mullen said. “And such sto­ries of courage, love and hope will be our con­tin­u­ous renew­al, as grass comes through the fresh­ly turned soil of Sec­tion 60.

“Our trea­sured keep­sakes will be the lives we cel­e­brate, every Memo­r­i­al Day and every day of the year,” the admi­ral said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)