Military News

Monday, May 28, 2012

Obama Praises Vietnam Vets at War's Anniversary


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2012 – President Barack Obama today called the treatment Vietnam War veterans received after they returned home “a national shame” and asked that Americans use the 50th anniversary of the war to set the record straight.

Obama spoke at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall on the National Mall. The black granite is incised with the names of 58,282 service members killed in the conflict.

“It’s here we feel the depth of your sacrifice,” the president said. “And here we see a piece of our larger American story.”

That American story is the generational pursuit of “a more perfect union,” Obama said. Each generation has a role to play in that effort – to overcome a painful past, to right a historic wrong, he said.

“One of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam – most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there,” Obama said. “You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor. You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated.”

The president called the treatment a national shame and a disgrace that should never have happened. “That’s why, here today, we resolve that it will not happen again,” he said.

A central part of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War will be “to tell your story as it should have been told all along,” Obama said. “It’s another chance to set the record straight. That’s one more way we keep perfecting our union – setting the record straight. And it starts today.”

History will honor the service of the Vietnam generation. Their stories will join those of veterans going back to the founding of the republic, the president said.

“Let us tell the story of a generation of service members – every color, every creed, rich, poor, officer and enlisted – who served with just as much patriotism and honor as any before you,” he said.

Combat in Vietnam was brutal: Battles in Hue and on Hamburger Hill and the A Shau Valley sparked heroism that often went unremarked in a nation bitterly divided by the war. And American POWs “wrote one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history,” Obama said.

“As a nation, we’ve long celebrated the courage of our forces at Normandy and Iwo Jima, the Pusan Perimeter and Heartbreak Ridge,” the president said. “So let us also speak of your courage -- at Hue and Khe Sanh, at Tan Son Nhut and Saigon, from Hamburger Hill to Rolling Thunder. All too often it’s forgotten that you, our troops in Vietnam, won every major battle you fought in.”

And with the war over, the Vietnam vets continued to serve. “So let us also tell a story of a generation that came home, and how – even though some Americans turned their back on you – you never turned your back on America,” he said. “You became leaders and public servants, from town halls to Capitol Hill – lifting up our communities, our states, our nation.”

And they learned from the mistakes of the past. Those who stayed in uniform used their experience to rebuild the U.S. military “into the finest force that the world has ever known,” Obama said.

The Vietnam generation looked after each other, Obama said, by pushing the bureaucracy to provide the benefits they earned and speaking up for more research money.

“Just as important, you didn’t just take care of your own, you cared for those that followed,” he continued. “You’ve made it your mission to make sure today’s troops get the respect and support that all too often you did not receive.”

Vietnam vets were the moving force behind the Post-9/11 GI Bill that is helping hundreds of thousands of today’s veterans go to college and pursue their dreams, Obama said.

“Because you didn’t let us forget, at our airports, our returning troops get off the airplane and you are there to shake their hands,” he said. “Because of you, across America, communities have welcomed home our forces from Iraq. And when our troops return from Afghanistan, America will give this entire 9/11 generation the welcome home they deserve.”

This is the legacy of Vietnam, Obama said -- the story of a generation that did its job.

“You served with honor,” the president said. “You made us proud. You came home and you helped build the America that we love and that we cherish. So here today, it must be said: You have earned your place among the greatest generations.”

Defense Leaders Call for Communities to Help Families, Vets


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., May 28, 2012 – Americans must remember the sacrifices made on their behalf and reinforce those memories with action, Defense Department leaders said at the Memorial Day observance here today.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both called for Americans to support veterans, especially those from the past 10 years of war and help the families of those who paid the ultimate cost of those wars.

“Arlington and all the men and women who rest here is a constant reminder that freedom is not free,” Panetta said during the ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheatre. “Today we join all Americas in coming together to pay tribute to all those brave Americans who have fought and died for our country.”

Dempsey said that the Memorial Day ceremonies across America are manifestations of “the sacred bonds of trust between the military family and our larger American family. But what really counts is how we nurture that bond with those still here, and how we turn that memory into action.”

Panetta noted that this is the 10th Memorial Day in a row in which Americans still are at war. “All of the millions of brave patriots who have stepped forward to serve this nation in time of war deserve our gratitude, our respect and our enduring support because they have kept our nation safe,” he said.

Panetta assured the families that their loved ones will never be forgotten. “We must be resolved to do all we can for these families,” he said. “It takes all of us – every citizen, every community, every business – to care for those families.”

Dempsey seconded that idea, saying the nation must continue to stand behind the families every day.

“Supporting them in the ways they need it most – particularly as they transition back into their home communities – shows that we do not just think of them … but that we really do remember,” the chairman said.

That role is most important because while every federal department is committed to making education, medical care and employment opportunities accessible to the military family, it is the neighbors and communities that must do the heavy lifting.

“The VA can’t drop the kids off at soccer, and the DOD can’t help you study for your final college exam,” Dempsey said. “Nobody looks out for you like friends, your neighbors or your family.”

The general noted that Memorial Day started after the Civil War and was originally called Decoration Day. It was a day when families went to graves and placed flowers and other tributes among the fallen, and was a locally driven observance.

“So it starts with us,” he said. “Preserving the bonds of trust is something we have to work at and something we’re going to have to keep delivering. And we will because the memory is ours -- all of ours.”

50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration


As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC, Monday, May 28, 2012

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I’m honored to be here today with all of you as we begin the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of America’s participation in the Vietnam War.

Memorial Day is an appropriate opportunity for all Americans to come together, to pay tribute to all those who have fought and died for our country, across more than two hundred years, and on battlefields near and far.

America’s sons and daughters have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our liberties, to give all of us a better life.

At this hour, at this hallowed and haunting memorial, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War – a war that occupies a central place in the American story.

Millions of Americans were sent across the Pacific to a little known place to fight in the service of the country they loved.

Not only at this hour, but at all times, we remember and carry in our hearts the more than 58,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen whose names are inscribed on this dark wall for eternity.

For me personally, this is an especially moving moment.  As a member and later chairman of the Vietnam Era Veterans Caucus in the House of Representatives, I had the honor to work on the endowment of this memorial.  To see the names of soldiers that I served with inscribed on this wall.  To see the names of officers who went through ROTC with me at Santa Clara inscribed on this wall.  To know my good friend Everett Alvarez, a hero from this war and a classmate of mine, who served with great distinction in that war.

No memorial better reflects the pain of the sacrifices that were made.

Many more came home from that war to a country that failed to fully acknowledge their service and their sacrifice, and failed to give them the honor they so justly deserved.

That experience, that failure to thank those who were willing to put their lives on the line for this country, was burned into the soul of my generation.  For too many Vietnam veterans, the recognition of their bravery came too late. 

The Vietnam generation, my generation – is graying now.   But this commemoration effort gives the country an opportunity, today and in the years ahead, to try and right the wrongs of the past, to remember those who served in this war and what they did for us, their service, and their sacrifice on our behalf.

Last week, I had the opportunity to join the President in paying tribute to a fallen member of that generation, Specialist Les Sabo, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

Les Sabo died in Vietnam saving his brothers-in-arms.  And it was those same brothers of his from the 101st Airborne Division who campaigned to re-open the Medal of Honor process for Les more than ten years ago.  The story of Les in many ways is the story of the Vietnam war.  We forgot, and now we finally remember.

Next week, as Secretary of Defense I will have the opportunity to travel to Vietnam to continue strengthening the growing ties our two countries have been re-establishing since in 1995.  We have come a long way since the war ended, and it was veterans of Vietnam who led the way for our two nations to begin the process of trying to heal the wounds of the war.

Today, Department of Defense personnel are working diligently to identify and locate the remains of fallen service members missing in action in Vietnam.  Let me assure you: this sacred mission will continue until all of our troops come home and are accounted for.

It reflects the determination of our military and our country to leave no man or woman behind, and to honor those who have honored us with their service, valor, and sacrifice.

During the last decade of war, another generation of warriors has answered the call to fight and sacrifice on foreign soil.  They have done all this country has asked them to do and more.

As they have returned from overseas, America, with our Vietnam veterans front and center in the effort – has embraced this new greatest generation of service members, showing that we have learned perhaps the most important lesson to come out of the Vietnam war – the debt we owe to those who fight and who die for our freedoms.

The President and Mrs. Obama have done so much to encourage Americans to do more to recognize and support these great patriots, they have led the fight for the men and women who fought for our nation.

As this country faces tough economic times, we must do everything we can to ease the transition of the thousands of service members who come home from war to civilian life.  They fought for us.  The least we can do is fight for them.

It is now my honor to introduce one of those Soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Senator Chuck Hagel.  He led an infantry squad in Vietnam during the bloody fighting following the Tet Offensive.  Like millions of our generation, he demonstrated bravery, patriotism, and heroism on the battlefield, and he also demonstrated that patriotism and that patriotism and that heroism in the life of public service that has followed.

Chuck, we thank you for honoring us with your presence today, and thank you for your commitment to the United States of America.

Obama: All Americans Must Help Shoulder Burden of War


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., May 28, 2012 – Binding the wounds of war is the priority for our nation, President Barack Obama said during the Memorial Day observance here today.

Representing all Americans, the president placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then spoke at the Memorial Amphitheatre.

“Today we come together as Americans to pray, to reflect and to remember these heroes,” he said. “But tomorrow this hallowed place will once again belong to a smaller group of visitors … following a well-worn path to a certain spot and kneeling in front of a familiar headstone. You are the family and friends of the fallen.”

Those who have lost a loved one “leave a piece of yourselves beneath these trees,” the president said. “You, too, call this sanctuary home.”

The president noted that for the first time in nine years Americans are not fighting and dying in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan is winding down, he said, and U.S. troops deployed there will come home. “After a decade under the dark cloud of war, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” he said.

With the war in Iraq over, the president put the scale of the sacrifice in perspective. He spoke of the four Marines who died in a helicopter crash on the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre, Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy and Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Watersbey were the first casualties of the war. He then spoke of the last of the nearly 4,500 casualties: Army Spc. David Hickman who was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad a month before the last Americans left Iraq in December.

The president spoke about meeting the Hickman family at Fort Bragg, N.C. “Right now, the Hickman’s are beginning a very difficult journey that so many of your families have traveled before them – a journey that more families will take in the months and years ahead,” he said.

Obama spoke directly to the families of the fallen and shared what he told the Hickmans: that there is no more wrenching decision as president than sending service members into harm’s way.

“I can promise you that I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary,” he said. “Then when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation.”

Americans need to help the families facing such tragedy, the president said. “As a country, all of us can and should ask ourselves how we can help you shoulder a burden that no one should have to bear alone.

“As we honor your mothers and fathers, your sons and daughters who have given their last full measure of devotion to this country, we have to ask ourselves how we can support you and your families, and give you some strength.”

The best way to help is to remember the sacrifices and to remember the dead as not just a line in the newspaper, but as individuals, Obama said. The country can honor them by meeting its obligations to those who did come home, he added.

“To all our men and women in uniform who are here today, know this: The patriots who rest beneath these hills were fighting for many things – for their families, for their flag – but above all, they were fighting for you,” Obama said. “As long as I am president, we will make sure you and your loved ones will receive the benefits you’ve earned and the respect you deserve. America will be there for you.”