'We honor our fallen heroes'


POSTED: Monday, May 25, 2009

Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department and a Purple Heart recipient, is the keynote speaker at today's 2009 Governor's Memorial Day Ceremony at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe. She also was to attend an earlier service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Duckworth moved to Hawaii when she was 16 and graduated from McKinley High School and the University of Hawaii. She was a helicopter pilot in Iraq when she lost both her legs and partial use of one arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2004.

Here is her message to be delivered at Kaneohe today, as prepared.

Aloha. I am so honored to be here today in beautiful Hawaii as we join together to pay tribute to the men and women who wore our nation's uniform and for whom duty to country meant more to them than their own lives.

More than 40 million Americans have fought, and more than 1 million of our sons and daughters have died since the days of the Revolution.

For centuries, brave American men and women have struggled for our independence, for liberty.

Freedom is what we fought for in Lexington, and at the Battle of Antietam and in Gettysburg.

It is what we fought for when we were attacked on Pearl Harbor, what the 442nd fought for in Italy and when they liberated Dachau.

It is what we fought for at Mount Suribachi, and in Korea, Vietnam, Mogadishu and in Kuwait.

And now, it is what our soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen continue to fight for in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever they are called to duty.

Freedom; it is our founders' vision; it is the symbol of all we hold dear in this great land.

The ground we stand on today, the very air we breathe, was paid for time and time again by our Warriors.

To all of you who bravely served this country in uniform — thank you. Our gratitude to you is boundless.

I know that President Barack Obama, Secretary Eric Shinseki and all of us at VA will stand by you and work hard to keep the covenant that this country made to you in return for wearing the uniform. You deserve the very best that we have to offer and we are determined to give you only the best.

We gather here today on Memorial Day to remember our fallen comrades. These were America's finest sons and daughters to whom we will be eternally grateful.

When our nation called. When she said who among you cherishes America's freedoms and values more than your own life. It was these men and women who stepped forward and said, “;I do. I am willing to lay down my own life, to leave the warmth of my family so that others will be free to remain with theirs.”;

Today is dedicated to the brave Americans who left us all too soon. Who did their job without hesitation and without question. Who stepped in harm's way, between the forces of tyranny and America. It is they who are our nation's greatest treasure.

It truly is an honor to wear the uniform of this remarkable country. I was never more proud than when I wore that uniform and served next to some of the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I was one of the lucky ones. I made it home.

The real heroes of this country are those who didn't.

The fact is, I should have died out there in that field in Iraq. And not a day goes by that I don't wake up and think of my buddies who saved my life.

I think of the names that go unanswered at roll call. They are why I wake up every day with a sense of purpose and a renewed vow to live my life to the fullest. You see, I am living not just my life. I am also living the unfinished lives of my fallen comrades and because of them, I must be better. How could I ever dishonor them and their families by wasting my second chance? I will not.

So let us all vow to keep the memories of our comrades, our daughters, sons, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and friends alive by living each day to the fullest.

For us in the Department of Veterans Affairs, today we renew our commitment to care for this country's veterans and their families.

It's about the 23 million veterans living, working and contributing to our society. In serving those who have served us all, we honor those who gave their last full measure of devotion.

We honor those who didn't make it home as we provide medical care to more veterans than ever before and continue to improve the quality of that care.

We honor them when we improve care for their survivors to ensure that our commitment to our military families is as strong as our commitment to their loved one who paid for that care with their blood.

We honor them by providing compensation for disabilities incurred during their service.

We honor our fallen heroes by assisting their comrades' transition back to civilian life with housing, education and employment assistance, by investing in the post 9/11 GI Bill, a historic investment in higher education for our Veterans.

And we honor that memory by expanding our national cemetery system to ensure that every veteran has the opportunity for interment in a national shrine. As we care for the living each and every day in the Department of Veterans Affairs, we memorialize our fallen comrades.

I urge you all to join fellow Americans everywhere in an act of unity, and reflect on those freedoms and on the men and women who secured them for us. Please pause wherever you may be at 3 o'clock today for one minute, in the National Moment of Remembrance.

To all those who lost a family member or friend in service: Take comfort in knowing that when the sun is shining down on you in beautiful Hawaii or wherever you may be, it is your loved one giving you a warm hug. The sun's rays on your face is your Warrior's gentle touch, giving you the strength to get through another day.

We will never forget you.

Thank you. God bless our troops who are in harm's way today and always, God bless America.