Veterans Day Address 2004
St. Croix County Government Center
Thank you. It is a great
honor to speak here today, the 50th Veterans Day.
All my life I have been surrounded by veterans. I am a child of
the Greatest Generation and both my parents are veterans of the Second World War. My grandfather served in the United States
Marine Corps during the Spanish American War and my mother’s brother was killed in action in 1944 while serving with the First
Marine Division on a small, coral island in the Pacific, known as Peleliu. I am a United States Marine Corps veteran of the
Viet Nam war. As I grow older, I understand, as only a veteran can understand, that all veterans are my family.
is nothing I can say here that can adequately communicate the esteem in which I hold the men and women of our military. You
see, to me the essence of a soldier is not a readiness to kill, although sometimes that is what must be done. To me, the
essence of a soldier is the willingness to sacrifice his or her own life; a sacrifice all too often made, in many ways and
in many places.
When called to service we came from farms, cities and suburbs; from the ghetto, the college and from
the small town high school, fresh from basketball games, proms and summers at the lake. When called, we came as one race—American--although
some of us were Mexican and others Canadian, others Polish or French, for such is the power of our ideal. We were, and are,
Americans all because we came with one mission: to offer ourselves, that this great country might persevere and prosper, that
this first modern democracy and its diverse peoples would be and would remain free, achieving economic might and opportunity
Over the past two and a third centuries we came, and many of us died in battle. Even more of us died from
diseases such as malaria and dysentery. In the first days of our nation, some of us died on the battlefield at Trenton and
others in the snows of Valley Forge. We fought, in our second war of independence, in New York, in the swamps of the Louisiana
bayou and on the high seas. We fought in Mexico--in the Halls of Montezuma of the song--1733 of us dying there.
fought on both sides in our bloody and terrible Civil War to preserve freedom, and a quarter of a million of us died in battle.
We fought in Africa, China and Korea; Cuba and the Philippines. We fought and died in the trenches of France and Germany
in "the war to end all wars," whose guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
the first decades of the 20th century we knew the battlefields and encampments of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Sixty years ago we sacrificed ourselves in places named Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Betio, and in the air over Germany and France.
We fought at Normandy and The Bulge, Anzio and Salerno and on all the great oceans of the world. Almost 300,000 of us died
on the battlefields of that war. Over 16 million of us fought, some of whom still walk among us, shining heroes to be honored
now for they leave us by the hundreds each day.
In my lifetime we fought, once more, in Korea, in places with names
like Inchon, Chosin and the Tonkton Pass and we died in the tens of thousands. We fought in Indochina: Cambodia, Laos, and
Viet Nam, even Thailand. We fought, as soldiers always fight, not for a political policy but for a political ideal, for our
honor, our units and, ultimately, for each other. Over 50,000 of us died in those jungles. I saw that dying. The numbers
have names like Jimmy Sells, Bob Bonebright and James Cox--the Marine who we called Sugar Bear because of his sweet disposition.
again, we fought in the Dominican Republic then Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia and, again, in Haiti.
And we died and we were scarred by the physical wounds and from the brutality of the task. We fight today in the former Yugoslavia
and Kosovo "keeping the peace," as we fought the entire latter half of the last century in the battles of nerve and will we
have called the Cold War. These are but a few of the places we have seen.
And this day, our brothers and our sisters
fight on the banks of the ancient Euphrates at Falluja and, soon, Ramadi. They fight for all of us. They offer themselves
in our stead. They are in Afghanistan fighting and dying, in East Africa, and still another time in the Philippines-- and
in places we will not know.
While others were finishing college, establishing careers or starting families, our veterans
were doing America’s work in fighting holes and tents, ships and airplanes; America’s work is done in knee-deep mud in malarial
swamps and on bitter-cold mountains. We went to remote and lonely barracks, far from our homes and families, missing the
births and deaths at home, the birthdays and the holidays, our children’s first words and first steps. We take great pride
in being called to service so you could be here for the families and the children. We will do nothing so important again.
our military personnel serve on all continents, on the seas and in the skies. They serve us as pilots and mechanics, tankers
and truckers, clerks and cooks. They keep us safe and prosperous by keeping the peace and by visiting violence upon those
who would do us harm. Remember, as you go out this day, that among you are men and women who offer their very lives for
your safety and security.
Remember, also, something that we and our families know all too well: sacrificing your life
for your country does not always mean dying. We went places we did not want to be and saw things no one should see. We gave
the most important years of our lives to our country and those of us who returned too often came back different, changed physically
and emotionally by what we had endured, having sacrificed our comfortable lives for not two, four or twenty years-- but forever.
Thank the veterans among you. Honor them by supporting health care for them and by supporting the disability payments
needed to compensate for lost arms and legs (today’s battlefields are particularly dangerous to extremities), for the cancers
acquired, the brains damaged and the mental health lost.
We are all around you. You may not recognize us but we
are here and we will always be here, waiting for our country to call. Thank us by remembering.
There is a famous and
apt inscription on a monument on foreign soil to Allied dead in the Second World War. It reads, as an epitaph might:
you go home
Tell them of us and say:
"For your tomorrow
We gave today."
Do not forget.
to all who have served. God bless you.
To those today in harm’s way may God preserve you and bring you back home
to our country for which you have given so much and from which so much is owed.