The numbers illustrate the magnitude of living veterans but say very little about the character of the veteran. As I stand here looking out over this group of veterans, I am reminded of the three words General McArthur defined in his last speech at West Point in 1962. The words are - Duty - Honor - Country - And I believe these three words apply to all veterans. These three words - Duty - Honor - Country - have been personified and upheld by veterans from Bunker Hill to Baghdad, from the Argonne Forest to Afghanistan, from the Corregidor to Ka San and from Iwo Jima to today.
As a nation, we have prospered because we have always had citizens, in times of danger, willing to stand up and answer the call. Our freedom has been assured by the selfless sacrifice of our military men and women. All of you here who have served, have made your mark, a mark FOR freedom and democracy and a mark AGAINST tyranny, genocide, and terrorism. Would all the veterans in the audience please stand. These are the real heroes among us, not the athlete, nor a actor, not the rock star we seem so eager to call heroes. And always remember, all these veterans have, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check payable to the people of the United States of America for an amount up to, and including, their life.
As I look over this audience, I see several generations of veterans. There are veterans who took part in the swift conflict in the Persian Gulf, and those who stayed with the long cold-war vigil, those who perspired in the heat of Vietnam, and those who shivered in the bitter cold of Korea. There are veterans in their 90's who served with Eisenhower and McArthur and save the liberty of the world. Tomorrow's veterans are in combat as we sit here. Their actions have also upheld the ideals of America's founding fathers, which defines us to this day. Our nation values freedom, not just for Americans, but also for all people of all nations. Moreover, because Americans are willing to serve and sacrifice for this cause, our nation remains the greatest force for good - among all the nations on earth.
I would like to use the words of Marine Chaplin Dennis Edward O'Brien. He wrote "What is a Veteran?" "He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers did not run out of fuel. He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a thousand times by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel in Korea. She is the nurse who fought against fatigue and the frustration of not being able to save them all and who went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang. He is the POW who went away one person and came back another and who saw some of his friends not come back at all. He is the parade riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand. He is the career quartermaster who never saw combat and who never received any ribbons or medals. He is the old guy bagging his groceries at the supermarket, palsied now and aggravatingly slow, who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come. He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being - a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs. He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known."
We must also remember that there are 5,500,000 disabled veterans who also sacrificed much for this nation. They may not have lost their lives but they certainly gave us a piece of it that they could never get back. Many are still in hospitals. Many will never live normal lives again. Many will live with the horror of war for the rest of their lives. It sometimes takes longer to heal the mental and emotional wounds than the physical ones and so we should not dismiss those who suffer from the trauma of war. Nor think of them as weak or cowardly. You have not seen what they have and sometimes the brutality of war simply overwhelms some good men and women.
Today, let us also remember the families of these veterans. They have also suffered losses. To lose a cherished son or daughter is an unimaginable sorrow but to have to watch while your child tries to recover from serious wounds, wounds that may never get better, is also heartbreaking. These families have also had to sacrifice and we should salute them for their courage and their selflessness.
Let us not forget the wives and children of the veterans. Wives who had to maintain families while their husbands were called to duty, businesses that suffered while the vet was away, lost time with growing families and memorable moments lost like the first step or first word of a child. All these and many other sacrifices that we can never know. I would also ask that the families of veterans please stand so we can acknowledge them as well. These are also the unsung heroes who stand behind the veterans.
Lastly, let us pray for the men and women who today stand guard for our nation in seventy-two different places around the world. They stand in harms way; they are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives. Let us pray, too, that one God that loves us all, that we do not have to etch too many of their names into granite markers.
In closing, I would remind you again that it is important that we pause each Veterans Day to remember those veterans who have sacrificed part of their lives in the defense of our freedom. For in remembering what they and their families have lost, we can appreciate the cost of the freedom we enjoy. We must never hold this freedom lightly. We owe it to them to guard our freedom, to preserve this nation and its constitution that they died or sacrificed for and not to trade it away for the sake of monetary gain, security, or political priorities. If you are a veteran, please stand up and let us honor you one more time.
Veterans, as always, I salute you.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your attention.