Tukwila, WA

Good afternoon, Mr. Hallman, distinguished guests, particularly our Tuskegee Airmen; elected officials, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to be here today, to participate in this Memorial Day observance at the Museum of Flight.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo, New York was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May, 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.

It’s not really important who was the very first. What is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division – it is about reconciliation – it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Those we honor today were compelled by love of liberty and country – ordinary men and women who acted in an extraordinary way, with selfless service, honor, integrity and courage. It is our duty to honor those who sacrificed their lives for freedom – those who fought and those who died.

From the soldiers who fought bravely during the American Revolution to the men and women of today’s armed forces, America’s fighting forces have responded bravely to this nation’s call to duty. For more than 200 years, America’s armed forces have been the surest guarantee that freedom will continue to ring across this land.

There are many who remember vividly, as the lives affected were husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, co-workers and neighbors, and that their unselfish sacrifice was made with the assurance that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness required the ultimate service to their nation.

Unfortunately, traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans today have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. There are, however, some notable exceptions.

Since the late 50’s, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.

In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, a practice that continues today. More recently, the Boy and Girl Scouts began placing a candle at each of the 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

I would like to pay a special tribute to the U.S. Marines and family members in the audience today, and to those who were not able to attend. I spent three years serving in the Marines, and those memories will last me a lifetime. If you are not aware, the Marine Corps dates all the way back to the Continental Marines and their beginning on November 10, 1775. November of 2010 will be the 235th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

On this Memorial Day, let us pause and remember those who served in conflict to protect our land, and sacrificed their dreams to preserve the hope of our nation.

I would like to close my remarks by reading “No, Freedom Isn’t Free” by Commander Kelly Strong, U.S. Coast Guard (retired):

I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform,
So young, so tall, so proud,
With haircut square and eyes alert
He’d stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers’ tears?
How many pilots’ planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves?
No, freedom isn’t free.

I heard the sound of taps one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That taps had meant “Amen”,
When a flag that draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn’t free.

Thank you for being here today and may God bless America and all of us.