First Memorial Day Keynote

Today's observance has great meaning for all who have gone in harm's way to defend our country. Today we remember those we left behind... the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. They were our closest friends and our most beloved brothers. Those who have faced danger together share a powerful bond. We are a band of brothers. We grieve for the loss of our brothers' companionship. We wonder what might have been if they had lived. They were strong and skilled. They were young and fit. They were our nation's best. They were young people with their lives before them. They sacrificed their own promising futurues so that the rest of us could enjoy the even greater promise of the nation they loved. Their sacrifice was a great one. But their sacrifice was not a wasted one.

It is easy to forget that this is still the finest nation the world has ever seen.

Sometimes, when we are deluged by the troubles of the day, it is easy to forget that this is still the finest nation the world has ever seen. Nowhere in the world is individual liberty and opportunity greater. Our standard of living is the envy of the world.

If these patriots could see the magnificent nation that was built and protected through their efforts I think they would agree that their sacrifice was not in vain. The idea for which they gave their lives has been realized. Their contribution toward advancing the american Dream was a great one, and their lives can be counted as successful.

British author George Orwell said, "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." There are many such "rough men" here today who have "stood ready in the night."

Those who share in the brotherhood know the terrible implications of "visiting violence on those who would do us harm." In recent year, many have come to believe that it is possible to defend our country without heroic struggle and difficult sacrifice.

In truth, as Civil War General Sherman said, "War is hell." The heroes we honor today marched into hell, willingly, to defend their country, their families and their way of life. They risked their lives, even consciously gave them up, for an idea. The idea that we are endowed by our Creator with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of fhappiness. The idea that all people are created equal. The idea that is the American Dream.

Four such heroes, men from our own state of Michigan, Medal of Honor winners gave their lives for that dream. Their example of self-sacrifice, devotion to duty, and patriotism shows the kind of men they were and the price they paid.

Fred W. Stockham was born in Detroit, and joined the Marine Corps to fight in World War I. Poison gas was commonly used during that conflict. This is an excerpt from the Citation for the Medal of Honor he received posthumously:

"During an intense enemy bombardment with high explosive and gas shells which wounded or killed many members of the company, GySgt Stockham, upon noticing that the gas mask of a wounded comrade was shot away, without hesitation removed his own gas mask and insisted upon giving it to the wounded man, well knowing that the effects of the gas would be fatal to himself. He continued with undaunted courage and valor to direct and assist in the evacuation of the wounded, until he himself collapsed from the effects of the gas, dying as a result ... a few days later. His courageous conduct undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his wounded comrades... "

Francis C. Flaherty, a Naval Reserve Officer from Charlotte, Michigan received this Medal of Honor Citation:

"For conspicuous devotion to duty and extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor... When it was seen that the USS Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Ensign Flaherty remained in a turret, holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life."

Sergeant First Class Donald R. Moyer entered the Army at Keego Harbor and received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea:

"... Sergeant First Class Moyer's platoon was committed to attack and secure commanding terrain stubbornly defended by a numerically superior ... force... Advancing up the rocky hill, the leading elements came under intense... fire, wounding the platoon leader and platoon sergeant. (Sergeant) Moyer, realizing the success of hte mission was imperiled, rushed to the head of the faltering column, assumed command and urged the men forward. Inspired by (Sergeant) Moyer's unflinching courage, the troops responded magnificently, but as they reached the ... crest of the hill, enemy fire increased in volume and intensity... (and) the enemy hurled a grenade into their midst. (Sergeant) Moyer ... threw himself on the grenade, absorbing the full blast of the explosion with his body. Although mortally wounded... , (Sergeant) Moyer's consummate devotion to duty contributed significantly to the ... seizure of the enemy stronghold... "

Private First Class Dewatne T. Williams, from Saint Claire, Michigan, was nineteen years old when he went on patrol in Vietnam. His citation reads, in part:

"... as the patrol was preparing to move ... to a preselected night position, it was attacked from ambush by a squad of enemy using small arms and hand grenades. Although severely wounded... , Pfc Williams, recognizing the danger to the patrol, immediately began to crawl forward toward a good firing position. ... he heard ... the patrol sound the alert than an enemy grenade had landed in their position. Reacting instantly... . he... rolled on top of the grenade as it exploded... Through his... inspiring valor in the face of certain death, he saved the other members of his patrol... enabled them to successfully defeat the attackers and hold their position until assistance arrived... " Each of these heroes gave his life to save the lives of others, and ultimately so that we could sleep safely in our beds. Each was filled with love for his country. They all longed for peace, but they were willing to fight to assure a just peace.

These four courageous men and the hundreds of thousands of other men and women who gave their last full measure knew that the "American Dream" is an idea greater than any one person.

Liberty, bought at such a price, must not be squandered. If we value the sacrifice, we must exercise the rights and freedoms those brave men and women won for us. It is right that we mark this day joyously with our families at picnics and parades with speeches and prayers of thanks. It is appropriate that we enjoy time away from our daily work, that we travel freely about our nation, that we engage in whatever leisure activity we most enjoy. These are all privileges won for us by those men and women who "stood ready in the night." By doing all those things, we celebrate their courage, selflessness and patriotism and honor their memory.

We should also spend a moment to remember the millions of men and women who served, but in God's wisdom, were spared. Those who came home, served with the same determination to protect their country from those who would do it harm. As I look out, I see many veterans of many wars... heroes in their own right. They, too, have struggled and sacrificed.

And finally, we must recognize those who have never worn the uniform, but have given their support in so man other ways, including attendance at this ceremony. Without them, our efforts would have no meaning. Without their support, we cannot exist. There are many ways to defend liberty. May each of us do our part, and may God bless America.