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May 31, 2004

Memorial Day Address

Mayor Jeremy Harris

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

May 31, 2004


            This morning we reflect with sorrow and deep appreciation on the lives of those who have fallen in our wars—men and women who gave everything so that freedom might survive.  We’re gathered in the solitude of this solemn resting place to honor our brave Americans, and remind ourselves that every life offered in the name of liberty is a life that has not been lost in vain.


            We stand today as one with millions of Americans at home and abroad, to pray for our patriots who’ve sacrificed all to uphold a covenant of freedom and faith.  We mourn their passing, but our hearts are lifted as we contemplate the blessings of liberty they so nobly assured.  That is the living legacy of their service to our country. 


            The spirit of America’s heroes extends beyond their time on this earth, revealing itself in daily events that define us as a free and peace-loving people.  The sight of diverse yet unified communities enjoying their right of civic participation; the sound of a church bell calling friends and neighbors to worship at a place of their choosing.  These are among the blessings of democracy made possible through the courage of the fallen.  We pledge today that our memory of their sacrifice will never falter.


            The dedication this weekend of the National World War II Memorial in our nation’s capital offers vivid testament of our sacred commitment to honor those who served during the difficult days of the last century.  Our thoughts and prayers are with all veterans of the Second World War and their families as we commemorate events that had a lasting impact on our history.


            Sixty years ago this week Americans played a pivotal role in a daring invasion that loosened a dictator’s grip on the people of Europe.  Beginning at dawn on the morning of June 6th 1944, the first of nine Allied divisions of sea and airborne troops—altogether more than 150,000 men—met the enemy on a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast to claim a beachhead in the name of liberty.



        Americans at Utah and Omaha Beach encountered the fiercest resistance on D-Day, yet were determined to achieve their objective in the face of insurmountable odds.  Those who survived the initial assault found scenes of unimaginable chaos and destruction on shore: abandoned vehicles and tanks, equipment strung all over the beach, medics attending the wounded, chaplains ministering to the dead…


            It fell to brave and determined bands of Americans to turn the tide at “Bloody Omaha.”  By the time darkness fell over Normandy that day, nearly 5,000 Allied casualties had fallen on a barren and windswept coast that time has never forgotten.  For those who survived, a year of hard fighting lay ahead.  For those who perished, an honored place in the history of free nations was secured. 


        Nineteen Forty-Four was a turning point in the war and the lives of free people everywhere.  Young men and women in the prime of youth set aside individual dreams for the sake of their country and the good of humanity.  The survival of democracy hung in the balance, and the right of all people to freedom, justice and the dignity of equality.


            Sixty years ago this October, members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team engaged in a horrific struggle with heavily armed and well-entrenched German forces in northeastern France.  Under orders to rescue the so-called “Lost Battalion” at all costs, the battered unit managed to reach their brothers in arms at a human toll of more than 800 casualties.  Their uncommon heroism reaffirmed the words of Franklin Roosevelt, who wrote that “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart … not a matter of race or ancestry.”  We salute these men for their courage and their fortitude.


            As we commemorate these and other seminal events in our nation’s history, we acknowledge the sacrifices borne by all Americans who have fought for their country.  Those who shouldered weapons in Korea and Vietnam endured no less hardship than their counterparts in World War II.  Their valor, comradeship and selflessness were no less evident.  We honor them today for their service to our country.


        Today, we have once again sent our brave sons and daughters to fight and die, but for a cause much less clear.  Though the motivations behind this current conflict may be uncertain—make no mistake—the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform is real and genuine.  Let us reflect on their sacrifices, and the emptiness endured by loved ones left behind.


            One family’s loss was movingly expressed in a letter written by Pfc. Jesse Givens of Fort Carson, Colorado, to be opened in the event of his death.  Just over a year ago Pfc. Givens died when his tank crashed into the Euphrates River in Iraq.  The letter was delivered to his young son Dakota, and wife Melissa, who was about to give birth to their second child.



            “I hope someday you will understand why I didn’t come home,” Jesse wrote.  “Please be proud of me.  Please don’t stop loving life.  Take in every breath like it’s your first.  I will always be there with you … in the sun, shadows, dreams and joys of your life….  Please understand that I had to be gone so that I could take care of my family.


        “There is so much more I need to say.  So much more I need to share….  Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone.  Take care of yourself, believe in yourself, you are a strong, big-hearted woman.  Teach our babies to live life to the fullest, tell yourself to do the same….  [After] you tuck [the kids in at night] give them hugs and kisses from me.  [And] go outside and look at the stars and count them…”


            The words of Jesse Givens remind us that we’re all part of an extended American family, whether our nation is at peace or at war.  They remind us of the power of a family’s love to support its heroes amid the challenges of combat deployment, and that loyalty and love are the reasons they take up arms in our defense. 


            And we’re reminded too, that while every life lost in war leaves a heartbreaking void in the American family that can never be filled, our men and women in uniform lay down their lives so that Americans may live in peace and security, that our children may be raised in a world without fear, and that future generations can reach to the stars in pursuit of eternal life, liberty and happiness.


            Thank you for joining us this Memorial Day.  May God watch over our nation.




Tuesday, June 01, 2004

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