Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day observed at Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum during Fleet Week

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian McNeal, Fleet Week New York Public Affairs

NEW YORK (NNS) -- Veterans, service members and civilians gathered in the shadow of the World War II-era aircraft carrier USS Intrepid to pay tribute to fallen heroes during the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Memorial Day ceremony, May 25.

The crowd of nearly 500 was brought to solemn silence as keynote speaker Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern command, challenged all in attendance to refocus their efforts in honoring heroes of the military, police department and first-responders.

"Often times, Memorial Day is just a long weekend," said Kelly. "We should be ashamed of ourselves if we don't at least for a few minutes on this day stop and think about the men and women who fell serving this country, and for the new greatest generation who are right now around the world facing a ruthless enemy for us."

Kelly went on to share his personal story of loss as he described the feelings his entire family felt learning of the death of his son Robert, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, who was killed in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan.

"I worked so hard in believing his sacrifice was worth it," he said. "It then came to me two weeks later the day we buried him. It doesn't matter what I thought of his death. The only thing that matters is what he thought, and he decided it was more important to be in Afghanistan doing what he was doing with his Marines and Navy docs who he loved so well."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to continue efforts of ensuring veterans returning home to New York City have a robust support system ready to assist their many needs.

"We have to honor our veterans every day, not just with ceremonies, but with the kind of actions that change their lives," he said. "Here in New York City, we will answer the president's call to action, and we will end veteran homelessness in this year."

The ceremony concluded with an unfurling of the national ensign, a ceremonial wreath-laying and a missing-man formation fly-over of F/A-18s Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadrons 213 and 31.

Fleet Week New York, now in its 27th year, is the city's time-honored celebration of the sea services. It is an unparalleled opportunity for the citizens of New York and the surrounding tri-state area to meet Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, as well as witness firsthand the latest capabilities of today's maritime services. The weeklong celebration has been held nearly every year since 1984.

Obama: Nation Owes Debt to Fallen Service Members

By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2015 – President Barack Obama today used the stories of three soldiers who died in Afghanistan to illustrate the values of the thousands of service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the nation’s wars.

Joined by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Obama spoke at the cemetery’s amphitheater after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in observance of Memorial Day.

Army Spc. Wyatt Martin and Armyn Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Morris were 15 years apart in age and traveled different paths in life, the president said, but their paths took them to the same unit in Afghanistan and made them brothers in arms.

“In December, an [improvised explosive device] struck their vehicle. They were the last two Americans to give their lives during our combat mission in Afghanistan,” Obama said. “These two men, these two heroes, if you saw them passing on the street, you wouldn't have known they were brothers. But under this flag, in common cause, they were bonded together to secure our liberty, to keep us safe.”

Like Martin and Morris, Army Cpl. John Dawson shared the same passion and convictions about serving his country, Obama said.

“In April, an attacker wearing an Afghan uniform fired at a group of American soldiers,” the president said. “And Dawson became the first American service member to give his life to this new mission to train Afghan forces. The words on John's dog tag were those of scripture: ‘Greater love has no other than this, than to lay down your life for your friends.’"

Recognizing 147 Years of Tribute

Americans have set aside this day for 147 years to pay solemn tribute to brave patriots who gave their “last full measure of devotion” for the nation, Obama said. “While the nature of war has changed over that time,” he added, “the values that drive our brave men and women in uniform remain constant: honor, courage, selflessness.”

The nation’s patriots have ranged from those who sparked the American Revolution, those who saved a union, those who defeated tyranny in Europe and the Pacific, he noted. Americans also braved the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of the Middle East, and became the men and women of the “9/11 Generation,” he said.

“This year, we mark a historic anniversary: 70 years since our victory in World War II,” Obama said. “More than 16 million Americans left everything they knew to fight for our freedom. More than 400,000 gave their lives.”

The president asked World War II heroes, their families and friends of the fallen to “so our country can thank you once more,” he said.

Freedoms Often Taken For Granted

Most Americans don't fully understand the sacrifice that 1 percent of the population makes by serving in the all-volunteer armed forces -- one that “preserves the freedoms we too often take for granted,” the president said.

“Few know what it's like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you, he added. “But our Gold Star families, our military families, our veterans -- they know this intimately.

“Whenever I meet with our Gold Star families, … I hear their pride through their tears as they flip through old photos and run their fingers over shiny medals, Obama continued. “I see that their hearts are still broken, and yet still full of love. They do not ask for awards or honors. They do not ask for special treatment. They are unfailingly humble. In the face of unspeakable loss, they represent the best of who we are.”

The Fallen Belong to the Nation

The sons and daughters and brothers and sisters who lay down their lives for American freedom belong all U.S. citizens, the president said.

“We benefit from their light, their positive influence on the world,” he said. “And it's our duty -- our eternal obligation -- to be there for them too, to make sure our troops always have what they need to carry out the mission, to make sure we care for all those who have served, to make sure we honor all those whom we've lost, to make sure we keep faith with our military families, to make sure we never stop searching for those who are missing or trying to bring home our prisoners of war. And we are grateful for the families of our [prisoners of war and those missing in action].”

A Reflection of America

The hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery is more than the final resting place of heroes, Obama said, adding that it also is a reflection of America.

“It's a reflection of our history -- the wars we've waged for democracy, the peace we've laid to preserve it,” Obama said. “It's a reflection of our diversity -- men and women of all backgrounds, all races and creeds and circumstances and faiths, willing to defend and die for the ideals that bind us as one nation.

“It's a reflection of our character,” he continued, “seen not only in those who are buried here, but also in the caretakers who watch over them and preserve this sacred place and in the sentinels of the 3rd Infantry Regiment who dutifully, unfailingly, watch over those patriots known only to God, but never forgotten.”

The Cost of the Nation’s Blessings

The nation endures because of the Americans who rest beneath Arlington’s beautiful hills and in sacred ground across the country and around the world, the president said.

“Each simple stone marker, arranged in perfect military precision, signifies the cost of our blessings,” Obama said. “It is a debt we can never fully repay, but it is a debt we will never stop trying to fully repay.”

The president urged Americans to be a nation worthy of their sacrifice -- “living our own lives the way the fallen lived theirs [as] a testament that ‘Greater love has no other than this, than to lay down your life for your friends.’"

Though this year the first Memorial Day since the end of the war in Afghanistan, the president said, “we are acutely aware, as we speak, our men and women in uniform still stand watch and still serve, and still sacrifice around the world.”

Several years ago, the nation had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and today fewer than 10,000 troops remain to train and assist Afghan forces, he said.

“We'll continue to bring them home and reduce our forces further, down to an embassy presence by the end of next year,” Obama said. “But Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place. As so many families know, our troops continue to risk their lives for us.”

Carter Pays Memorial Day Tribute to the Fallen, Families

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.”