By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 25, 2015 – While only the families of the fallen know what it’s like to lose a loved one, the nation is grateful for service members’ sacrifices, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at Arlington National Cemetery today.
The secretary joined President Barack Obama and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey to pay tribute to America’s heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice on this 147th Memorial Day observance.
“We, your fellow Americans, lack the words to describe what you feel today, because try as we may and try as we do, we can never fully know,” the secretary said to families of the fallen.
“But we do know what your sacrifice means to us, to this nation, and to a world that still depends so much on American men and women in uniform for its security,” he said.
Obligation and Opportunity
Carter said gathering at the national cemetery today reminded him of President John F. Kennedy, who said, “These quiet grounds, this cemetery and others like it all around the world, remind us with pride of our obligation and our opportunity."
On Memorial Day, “our obligation and our opportunity are one and the same,” Carter said.
“Our obligation is to give voice to the fallen, honor them, and share their stories of sacrifice and heroism,” he explained. “Our opportunity is to use this day to inspire new generations to understand the freedom they have been given, to grasp how and why it is theirs, and to dedicate themselves to pass it on to generations unborn.”
American Flag’s Tradition
The secretary asked the audience to reflect on how the American flag is flown on Memorial Day.
“First it is hoisted briskly to the top, with the same clarity of purpose we see in all those who step forward to join our all-volunteer force,” he said. “Then it is solemnly, soberly lowered to half-staff, a tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
But it doesn't stay there, Carter said, noting that at noon, the flag is raised back toward the sky to signal the nation’s will to recover after tragedy -- “the great strength and resilience that characterizes not only our nation, but also those who defend it, and their families.”
Today, while watching the American flag fully ascend, citizens’ thoughts will be with its service members who are both lost and living, including the nearly 200,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines beyond the nation’s shores who are ably protecting Americans far from home, Carter said.
“They too join us in mourning the fallen,” he said. “They too join us in celebrating our strength. And like those we remember today, they too serve in a long line of patriots who fought in places like Lexington and Concord, Gettysburg and Midway, and, more recently, Fallujah and Helmand -- a legacy that has made our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”