Monday, May 31, 2010

Live Lives Worthy of Fallen Warriors' Sacrifices

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

May 31, 2010 - President Barack Obama called on the nation during a Memorial Day address at Joint Base Andrews, Md., to honor the legacy of its fallen warriors and to live lives worthy of their sacrifices.

"At its core, the nobility and majesty of Memorial Day can be found in the story of ordinary Americans who became extraordinary for the most simple of reasons: they loved their country so deeply, so profoundly, that they were willing to give their very lives to keep it safe and free," Obama told an assembly of several dozen servicemembers today after landing in Washington from a weekend in Chicago.

He initially had been slated to deliver his address at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois, but torrential rains and lightning cancelled that event. Instead, he visited wounded veterans and their families receiving care at the Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital near Chicago.

Obama noted during his address at Andrews tonight the fallen warriors' shared belief in their country throughout its history, and willingness to sacrifice lives of comfort, and ultimately, life itself, to protect its ideals.

"They answered their country's call. They stepped forward. They raised their hand. They took an oath," he said.

As they served their country in uniform throughout its history, they left their loved ones when duty called. In doing so, they liberated countries, ended the Holocaust, rid towns of insurgents and saved villages from the terror of violent extremists, he noted.

They fought for freedom and the flag, the president said. But they also fought for each other, to bring their buddies home and keep their families safe. "And that is what they did, to their last breath," he said.

"This is what we honor today — the lives they led, the service they rendered, the sacrifice they made -- for us," he said.

"In this time of war, we pay special tribute to the thousands of Americans who have given their lives during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and who have earned their place among the greatest of generations," he said. "And though our hearts ache in their absence, we find comfort in knowing that their legacy shines bright in the people they loved: America's Gold Star families."

The legacy of America's fallen lives on, the president said.

It lives through their parents who instilled the values and virtues that led them to service. It lives through their spouses who gave the nation the person they cherished most. It lives through their children, whose parents gave their lives so they could live theirs. And it lives through those who fought alongside them – veterans and troops still serving in harm's way.

"Just as you keep alive the memory of your fallen friends, America must keep its commitments to you," Obama told the servicemembers. "That means providing the support our troops and families need, and the health care and benefits our veterans deserve. This is our sacred trust to all who serve, and upholding that trust is our moral obligation."

Obama called on all Americans to live lives worthy of the sacrifices its fallen heroes have made, and that the country's men and women in uniform continue to make every day.

"The legacy of these fallen heroes lives on in each of us," he said. "The security that lets us live in peace, the prosperity that allows us to pursue our dreams, the freedoms that we cherish — these were earned by the blood and sacrifice of patriots who went before.

"Now it falls to us to preserve this inheritance for all who follow."

Memorial Day Observed at NMCP Cemetery

By Rebecca A. Perron, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Public Affairs

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth held its 24th annual Memorial Day observance May 31 in the historic Captain Theodore H. Conaway Memorial Naval Cemetery, where more than 850 Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are interred. A light breeze fluttered the flags that Boy Scouts had placed at each grave site, identifying the home nation of the person laid to rest.

The ceremony was conducted and co-sponsored by the Tidewater Area Council of the Fleet Reserve Association and Ladies Auxiliary.

Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks, NMCP commander, welcomed the guests to the ceremony and officially unveiled a new grave marker for a Medal of Honor recipient. In late 2009, the Medal of Honor Society determined that Seaman Hendrick Sharp, who died in 1892, had received the MOH for his participation in the Battle of Mobile Bay on board USS Richmond in 1864. The MOHS commissioned a new grave marker that was installed recently to recognize Sharp for his actions.

Stocks read from Sharp's MOH certificate, saying that he "fought his gun with skill and courage throughout a furious two-hour battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram Tennessee and in the damaging and destruction of the batteries at Fort Morgan." Not much else is known about Sharp, other than that he was born in Spain in 1815, claimed New York as his home and died in 1892.

In addition to the four known MOH recipients, the MOHS believes that as many as 13 others buried in the cemetery received the award, and the society is searching naval records to confirm.

The ceremony's featured speaker was Capt. Sean Mahoney, Incident Management branch chief for the Coast Guard's 5th District. Mahoney recognized the sacrifice of service members across the generations who paid the ultimate price and told the stories of three Coast Guard members killed in action during three different wars.

"When I speak about these three heroes," Mahoney said, "I hope you will reflect on all of the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from all of the services who didn't make it home."

Mahoney told about the heroic actions of Petty Officer Douglas Munro, who served as a landing craft operator on Guadalcanal during World War II, helicopter pilot Lt. Jack Rittichier, who flew rescue missions in Vietnam, and Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal, who served with one of the Coast Guard's Tactical Law Enforcement Teams in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As he concluded his remarks, Mahoney said, "The nature of the threats to liberty and our nation have changed throughout our history, but our service members across the generations have always risen to the challenge of defending our nation."

At the end of the ceremony, William and Carolyn Combs of the Fleet Reserve Association and the Ladies Auxiliary placed a wreath on the cairn surmounted by a stone pillar and urn honoring the men lost during the Hampton Roads' battle between USS Cumberland, USS Congress and the ironclad CSS Virginia's maiden voyage.

The cemetery is the final resting place of those who served bravely during our nation's major conflicts and wars, including more than 850 fallen Soldiers, Sailors and Marines from seven countries, as well as Union and Confederate service members. Also laid to rest are victims of the yellow fever epidemic that swept Hampton Roads in 1855.

Obama Visits Troops at New Fisher House

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

May 31, 2010 - President Barack Obama visited gravestones at the Lincoln Cemetery near Chicago today, but when torrential rains cancelled his prepared Memorial Day remarks, paid a stop at a newly opened Fisher House.

The president laid a wreath and bowed his head in silence at the historic cemetery, and had just stepped to the podium to deliver his speech as driving rain turned to lightning and officials called off the event.

The president had planned to present a speech calling veterans and servicemembers "living memorials" to their fallen comrades, and pledging that a grateful nation will provide them and their families the support they deserve, according to a transcript of the speech provided to reporters in advance.

He had planned to pay special tribute to those killed in the current wars, including 17 buried at the historic cemetery near Chicago. Their legacy, he had planned to say, lives on through their loved ones, their comrades and a nation that enjoys the freedoms for which they sacrificed.

Obama traveled from the cemetery to the newly dedicated Fisher House in Hines, Ill., where he met with servicemembers and veterans receiving medical care at the Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital, as well as their families.

The Hines Fisher House is the first in Illinois and was officially dedicated May 28. It was donated to the VA by the Fisher House Foundation as a home away from home for families of veterans and military members receiving treatment at the VA hospital.

Obama donated $250,000 of the Nobel Peace Prize award he received in March to the Fisher House Foundation.

Leaders Salute Fallen Troops at Arlington National Cemetery

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

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.

Mullen: Military Will Continue to Support Spill Effort

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

May 31, 2010 - The military will continue to support the effort to cap and mitigate the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it does not have the technical expertise to take over the operation, the nation's top military officer said on the morning news shows today.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also used the opportunity to ask Americans to remember the sacrifices of servicemembers throughout history and today in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to note the progress made in the two wars.

Mullen spoke the day after BP announced the latest effort to stop the leak – "Top Kill" – had failed. The Pentagon has looked at the capabilities the military can provide to the oil companies as they battle the spill, he said.

"There are some limits to the skills that we have to do this," Mullen said on CNN. "We've looked at the technical side of this enormously difficult challenge. The oil industry really has the technical expertise to go after this."

More than 1,000 National Guardsmen already have been called up to help with the spill. The military has provided booms to contain the oil, as well as some aircraft to spray dispersants and some communications capabilities. The Defense Department is clearly in support of the lead agency, the chairman said.

"This is a very difficult problem, and from all I've been able to discern having industry be the technical lead is important," he said on "Good Morning America." "The military doesn't have the capability that could immediately get to eliminating or stopping this leak."

The oil companies have the kind of technology that potentially could get at this leak. The failures speak to the difficulties of the process, Mullen noted.

The Defense Department may provide more personnel for the effort, if called upon, the chairman said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has authorized several thousand more National Guard troops who would be called up by state governors.

"From my understanding there is a great deal of civilian manpower available," Mullen said. "If we are called on we will continue to contribute [personnel]."

Turning to Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen said American servicemembers have made significant progress in the two wars.

In Iraq, the number of troops is due to fall to about 50,000 by the end of August.

"There are certainly challenges politically in Iraq to stand up this new government, but from all I can see we're on track to do that," he said. Even with the spikes in violence in the country the political process continues to move forward, he added.

Mullen said the last of the 30,000 more U.S. troops President Barack Obama authorized in December will be in Afghanistan this fall. The operations there are centering in Regional Command South with actions in and around Marja in Helmand province and Kandahar.

"The operation started in February and it will take a few more months before the progress in Marja is irreversible," he said. "We are now focused on Kandahar."

Those servicemembers are always on his mind, he said.

"This is a day of remembrance. We've lost in these two wars over 5,400," Mullen said on NBC's "Today Show." "We've had tens of thousands visibly wounded and hundreds of thousands invisibly wounded in these wars. This is the best military I've been associated in more than 40 years. They continue to make the sacrifices.

"I'd like the American people to reach out to them, to remember them on this special day of remembrance," he continued. "But also they need to reach out to them every day of the year."