Second Memorial Day Keynote

This is the day we honor those who cannot be here with us to enjoy the benefits of the freedom they won for us. By their selfless actions, they defended and preserved our way of lifeā€¦ a way of life that is the envy of the world.

More than that, their sacrifice has changed the world. When they were called, the stood ready to do whatever it took to oppose those who would oppress their neighbors by force. They stopped dictators in Europe and warlords in Asia. They won the not-so "Cold War" against Soviet communism. A map of the world would look very different today without the dedication and sacrifice of the men and women of the American military.

In this age of emphasis on the individual, it is easy to forget that the young men and women who died for their country, as well as those who fought besides them, did so, not necessarily for what they believed in, but for what their country stood for. Their faith in the American Dream transcended any doubts they had. That is the definition of patriotism.

And their faith was justified.

Of course we have not been perfect. Our government has made mistakes. But our motives have been honest. We've not been empire builders, bent on subjugation of our weaker neighbors. When we have engaged in war outside our borders it has been to defend ourselves or to defend our friends when they needed help.

We stood alone in the world as a free and democratic nation... Now, there are over one hundred.

And the result has been magnificent. When we Americans declared our independence, and began our dream, we stood alone in the world as a free and democratic nation. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were still only a small handful of democracies in the world. Now, there are over one hundred. I think that speaks for itself.

As we approach the new millennium, we are still face with many challenges, similar to the ones faced by those we honor today. If we truly honor their memory, we must be willing to meet the challenges and make the same sacrifices they did to perpetuate the dream.

There is such a challenge that I'd like to talk about for a minute.

During the period after World War II, everybody was a veteran or knew a veteran. Everyone had friends and relatives who had served in the military. Many elected officials and decision-makers were veterans. The draft was still in effect and people from all walks of life were obligated to serve. Even Elvis did his time in the Army. Military service to our country was honored and expected. Today, the majority of Americans have not had any military experience. According to the VA, there are about 25.6 million military veterans in the United States. That means that only one person in ten in this country has ever served in the military. The draft ended nearly a quarter century ago. Nobody in this country under the age of forty has faced the possibility of involuntary military service.

We had drifted into two separate classes: military and civilian. Those of us in the military tend to be the sons and daughters of military people. Often our children choose to serve. On the other hand, there are many who never consider military service as an option. Their friends don't join. None of their living relatives have served. It is simply not a part of their world.

Walls have grown up between the two classes. Misunderstanding, misconception and misinformation have grown on both sides of the wall.

This is a dangerous situation. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The walls must come down.

Many of you here have served, either by your own time in the military, or by your support of loved ones in the armed forces. You know the sacrifice required to defend our nation. By your attendance today, you show how much you respect that sacrifice.

Your support at home strengthens our resolve to do what must be done.

And your own service continues now. The American military can achieve nothing without the support of the American people. It is the nature of our democracy. By your support for those of us currently in uniform, you serve our nation in a real and important way. Your support at home strengthens our resolve to do what must be done. Your support at the ballot box assures that our government makes wise decisions in military matters. Your support for organizations such as the USO, American Red Cross, the American Legion, the VFW, and many others assure that we can get assistance, support and comfort when we need it.

Another, even more vital way in which you serve is by being the voice of the military to your civilian friends. You stand with one foot in each world. You've done your time, but you have friends who have not. You know that there are good people, loyal Americans, in both groups. You are a bridge between the two. You help foster mutual respect to avoid the misconceptions and misunderstandings. If we work together, the United States as a whole will be better and stronger. We will be better prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. We can make better judgements as to when military force might be used to defend our interests and when the use of our military is inappropriate. Each time you explain some aspect of reality in the military to a civilian friend, you take a small step toward building that bridge.

Those of my generation heard the call to "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." That call resounds today, as it did nearly four decades ago. The heroes we remember this morning were true to that ideal. Many of you answer that call every day.

On behalf of all those currently serving in our armed forces, I thank you for your support. I am confident that those we honor today look on your efforts with approval. Following their example of selflessness, and with the support of patriots such as you, our nation will continue to be the beacon of freedom for the next millennium.