Tukwila, WA

Good afternoon Mr. Hagedorn, distinguished guests, elected officials, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to be here today and participate in another Memorial Day observance at the Museum of Flight.

Memorial Day is unlike any other. Since 1868, we have come together in our communities, towns and villages, to place flowers and flags on the graves of those who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country. We have come here to remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

During the Revolutionary War, the stars and stripes flew high as a symbol of freedom, and provided inspiration as Francis Scott Key inscribed the words to the Star Spangled Banner, and while we remember so vividly the first verse, it is one of the other verses that honors the soldiers who fought so bravely for that flag:

”O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand;
between their loved homes and war’s desolation;
blessed vict’ry and peace, may the heaven rescued land;
praise the power that hath made and preserved as a nation;
then conquer we must when our cause is just;
and this be our motto, in God is our trust…”

Our flag is truly a symbol of the freedoms that we fight to protect. From Key’s vision of bombs bursting through the morning air to the courageous memory of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, the American flag is a symbol of freedom that we celebrate and hold sacred.

A tradition on Memorial Day, is to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries. The 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd 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. The Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis place flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. This Memorial Day should remind each of us of the sacrifice made by men and women throughout our nation so that our flag could stand tall.

In each instance, when called upon to defend the rights of this nation to enjoy the liberty of freedom, the American soldier, both men and women, has responded courageously – whether it was WWII and rallied by support around the world, or in Vietnam during a time of disruption and confusion among the people of our nation, or even today when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan provoke disagreement among people. It is critical that each of us show our respect for the soldiers who fought and to remember the sacrifice made by each one. Our land has been truly blessed and honored with veterans who paid the ultimate price for freedom. Their sacrifices affected so many others - husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

Harry Truman once said, “I think I know the American soldier….he does not want gratitude or sympathy. He had a job to do. He did not like it, but he did it - and how he did it. Now he wants to come back home and start again, the life he loved…”.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

“We cherish too, the poppy red
that grows on fields where valor led,
it seems to signal to the skies
that blood of heroes never dies”.

Let us pause with respect and honor to remember those who fought, for those gave their lives, and for those who willingly stand ready today to do the same, without question, when the defense of freedom calls on them. We owe each of them the highest regard, respect and honor – and the assurance that their commitment to this nation’s freedom will never be forgotten. We are in your debt and we thank you. May God always bestow His blessings upon you.

Thank you.