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Public Statements

Memorial Day Tribute

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

MEMORIAL DAY TRIBUTE -- (Senate - May 24, 2007)

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, nearly 6 years after the worst terrorist attacks in American history, we have yet to be hit again on our soil. No one would have thought this possible immediately after the 9/11 attacks. But it is true because America is on offense in the war on terror.

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the brave men and women of the Armed Forces who have made that achievement possible, and to honor their sacrifice. Since 2001, over 3,800 Americans have died fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Over 60 were from Kentucky.

Our country must honor those who died in the line of duty as well as their families. The debt we owe them can never be repaid. I have had the honor of meeting many of the families of these servicemembers, and I have told them their loved ones did not die in vain.

Many who fought in the war on terror live to tell their stories, and I recently heard one I had like to share involving soldiers from Fort Campbell, KY. Four soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division lived up to the warrior ethos of never leaving a fallen or wounded comrade behind.

The city of Ramadi, Iraq, has seen some of the worst battles between coalition forces and the terrorists. One night in March 2006, SGT Jeremy Wilzcek, SGT Michael Row, PFC Jose Alvarez and PFC Gregory Pushkin, among others, made their way through the city's narrow alleys back to base.

Suddenly Sergeant Row saw two figures run into a house. Immediately suspicious, he stopped the team in its tracks just as machine-gun and small-arms fire and grenades erupted on the street in front of them. The soldiers took cover and returned fire.

Private First Class Alvarez noticed a fellow soldier had been hit and was lying in the middle of the storm of bullets. Without thinking twice, he ran into the line of fire and threw himself over his comrade. But he was too late. The soldier was dead.

Private First Class Alvarez kept firing until he had unloaded his weapon at the enemy, and then stood up and began to carry the soldier's body to a safe area. Sergeant Row provided cover fire, while Sergeant Wilzcek and Private First Class Pushkin ran into the firefight to help Private First Class Alvarez carry their colleague.

The three soldiers were nearing cover when two rocket-propelled grenades exploded yards away from them, knocking all three down and slicing Private First Class Alvarez's knee with shrapnel. But the three continued, finally reaching a safe area out of the path of bullets.

Sergeant Wilzcek and Private First Class Pushkin then ran back into the enemy's kill zone several times, rescuing more trapped soldiers. Sergeant Row continued to lay down cover fire, even though the same explosion that injured Private First Class Alvarez's knee had buried shrapnel deep in his elbow. Finally, every soldier made it to a safe area.

They were out of immediate danger. But gunfire all around them made clear the terrorists were still out to kill. Sergeant Wilzcek, Sergeant Row and Private First Class Pushkin made their way to the roof of a building, and with the advantage of the high ground, successfully killed, captured or drove off
the terrorists, enabling the squad to return to base safely.

This February, now-Staff Sergeant Wilzcek and now-Specialists Alvarez and Pushkin were awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest award given for valor in the face of the enemy. Sergeant Row was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.

Their acts of heroism rank them among the finest America has to offer. But what I find most amazing is that they are everyday people who could be your neighbor, coworker or relative. And we have thousands more brave Americans in uniform all willing to do the same.

So this Memorial Day, remember the courage of our servicemen and women, performing extraordinary feats just like the men of Fort Campbell. Remember the sacrifice of those who don't make it back home. As long as America has fighters of such spirit, we can never be defeated on the battlefield.

Mr. AKAKA. Mr. President, we are approaching Memorial Day, a time to honor those servicemembers who gave their very lives--what Abraham Lincoln described as ``the last full measure of devotion.'' When Lincoln spoke those words, he was dedicating a modest ``soldiers cemetery'' in a Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg. Today Gettysburg and the address Lincoln gave there hold a special place in our national memory. In fewer than 300 words, President Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in the history of this great Republic.

In that speech, Lincoln said what was known: that it is good and right to dedicate a place to honor the brave servicemembers who rest beneath it. But more importantly, he put into words what was felt: that the best way to honor the dead is to remember their sacrifices, and dedicate our lives to the Nation for which they gave their lives.

What we now call Memorial Day was begun in the aftermath of that war, with two dozen cities and towns across the United States laying claim to being the birthplace of what was then called Decoration Day. Generations later, America paused in the aftermath of World War I, a massive conflict that inspired the poem, ``In Flanders Field,'' about the lives the war took and the bond between the living and the dead. That poem roused the convictions of an American teacher named Moina Michael, who clung to the image of the red poppies in Flanders Field, which grew above the graves of World War I servicemembers. Miss Michael vowed to ``keep the faith'' with those who had died and to wear a red poppy as a sign of that pledge. She recorded her commitment in a poem she called ``We Shall Keep the Faith,'' which reads, in part:

We Cherish, too, the poppy red,
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies

Miss Michael spent the rest of her life raising money for veterans and survivors in need, by selling red poppies to honor the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our Nation. Through the sale of poppies made by disabled veterans, she raised approximately 200 million dollars for veterans and their survivors.

Today our great Nation steps further into the fifth year of our current conflict in Iraq, and our sixth year in Afghanistan. As we ponder how best to honor those who have died in these conflicts and in all prior wars, we can look to our history to find words and actions to guide us. Just as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address turned sentiment into prose, Miss Michael turned it into poetry, and then into action. For ourselves, we can look at the sacrifices of those who have served and then look within ourselves to honor them with our lives.

For myself, I pledge my continued best effort to make certain that those who serve receive the thanks and the benefits and services they earned by their service and for those who gave their all, that their survivors are likewise given all they need.


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