Duckworth's address draws respect, cheers


POSTED: Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More than 500 people stood and cheered L. Tammy Duckworth, a former helicopter pilot wounded in Iraq and U.S. assistant secretary of veteran affairs, who returned home to speak at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.

“;To all of you who bravely served this country in uniform, thank you,”; said Duckworth, a McKinley High School and University of Hawaii graduate who was the guest speaker. “;Our gratitude to you is boundless.”;

Duckworth and guests who included Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona and U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka attended the ceremony to honor the nation's war dead and, by extension, the millions who fought for the nation and those who continue to risk their lives in battle.

“;We owe much to those who have passed through the perils of combat and lived, and we owe much more to those who did not,”; said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, state adjutant general. “;We have our freedom because of what they did.”;

The humid, windless weather was cooled with a brief rain as Duckworth, accompanied by Aiona, placed a wreath at the cemetery.

In November 2004, Duckworth was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by insurgents while she co-piloted a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq. She lost her legs and suffered severe damage to her right arm. Duckworth served as director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs before her recent appointment as VA assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs.

“;Not a day goes by that I don't wake up and think of my buddies who saved my life,”; said Duckworth during the ceremony. “;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. 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.”;

The ceremony ended with a flyover by four CH-47 Chinook helicopters piloted by veterans of the Iraq war, members of Charlie Company, 193rd Aviation, Hawaii Army National Guard.

“;To have the Charlie 193rd guys do the flyover just touched my heart,”; she said after the ceremony.