We gather here today to pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the defense of our country.
We are here on this beautiful May morning to remember the names and the deeds of our fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who, since the beginning of our nation, have protected our democratic system of government and the liberties we hold dear.
We are here today to pay tribute to the fallen with music, speeches, wreaths, flags and prayers. But I think its worth noting that the fallen continue to serve us.
From the 49 Patriots who sacrificed their lives at the battles of Lexington and Concord 240 years ago, to the 75 modern-day warriors killed in action in Afghanistan over the past year -- they continue to serve us in a very real and concrete way.
They are still providing additional acts of service to our country by uniting our communities and connecting us to our glorious past.
Those who gave what President Lincoln referred to as the the last full measure of devotion also continue their service to us by reminding us that we live in a great country that has done more to promote liberty and prosperity in the world than any other country in the history of mankind.
And perhaps most importantly, the men and women we remember and honor on Memorial Day are serving us by providing inspiration to overcome the challenges we face today.
Let me explain what I mean:
Uniting our Communities
This is a spectacular May morning. There are countless other activities we could be engaged in at this moment. But we are here with our neighbors and friends because the men and women who gave their lives for our country have brought us together today.
Not only have they brought us together, they have given us a day to set aside all of the things that divide us. And they have given us a reason to come together to live out one of our nations mottos: E pluribus unum. Latin for From many, one.
In addition, the heroes we honor today are connecting us to our past. At these events to honor those who fell in battle, children born in the 21st century have an opportunity to see and meet the American servicemen and women who saved the 20th century from the freedom-crushing ideologies of communism, Nazism, fascism and imperialism.
Remind Us Our Country is Great
If you watch the news or read the papers these days, it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our country is something other than a force for good in the world. But the truth is, the United States of America, led by our military, stopped the Holocaust, liberated continents and helped nurture free and democratic societies all over the world.
The American Armed Forces have been, and continue to be, the worlds lead humanitarian agency. In recent years, when catastrophes struck places like the Philippines, Haiti and Thailand, American troops were there to provide food, water and supplies. American service members even deployed to fight against Ebola in West Africa last year. In fact, the United States military engages in some 70 major humanitarian missions a year in 40 or 50 nations. Currently, our troops are playing a key role in earthquake-devastated Nepal. Earlier this month, six U.S. Marines gave their lives for their fellow man when their helicopter crashed while providing aid in Nepal.
In short, with so many voices telling us what is wrong with America, on Memorial Day, we honor the fallen who remind us that so much is right with America.
And perhaps the most important service our fallen troops provide us on Memorial Day is the inspiration to overcome the obstacles we face.
During WWII, the Pacific island of Tarawa was so heavily fortified the Japanese officer charged with defending it bragged it would take a million men attacking for a hundred years to take Tarawa. American troops, enduring some of the heaviest casualties of the war, took that island in four days.
In the European theater, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division, his men surrounded and freezing in the Ardennes forest, defiantly refused the Nazi demand to surrender. Nineteen thousand American soldiers were killed in the Battle of the Bulge, but the American lines held, the counteroffensive was successful and the Nazis were forced to withdraw.
A few years later, during the Korean War, a single American division surrounded by eight elite Red Chinese divisions broke out of the Chosen Reservoir. They suffered great casualties, but inflicted casualties on the enemy that were so devastating, two of the Chinese divisions had to be disbanded and others didnt return to the field for months, thereby, allowing the United States and our allies the opportunity to gain a foothold in Korea.
In Vietnam, our troops were hit by the Tet Offensive, one of the biggest surprise attacks in history. But they quickly regrouped, beat back the attack and retook the cities that were briefly lost and achieved a decisive battlefield victory.
When we think about the long odds our troops endured in these battles and in all those battles we fought before and since, the challenges we face today immediately become more manageable. In light of their hardships and sacrifice, the problems we must solve immediately become more solvable.
And when we think about the hundreds of thousands of Americans who laid down their lives to preserve for us what President Reagan called the last best hope for man on earth, we cant help but be inspired to meet the challenges we face and do our part to preserve our country and way of life for our children and their children.
So as we commemorate Memorial Day 2015, let us call to mind all the brave men and women who have given their lives in the service of our country. And let us also remember that their service continues by unifying communities, connecting generations and inspiring the nation.
May God bless you. May God continue to bless this great country of ours, and may God bless the men and women who died to keep our nation the freest, most prosperous nation in history and a beacon of hope to the world.