Memorial Day - 2007
Thank you. It is a real privilege to be here with you today - a day when our nation pauses to honor the memory and sacrifice made by our fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. I want to recognize the veterans who are here with us, as well as the families of our military men and women, past and present. The meaning of Memorial Day is embedded forever in your hearts and reflected in your experience, and you deserve our community's - and our country's - deepest gratitude.
It takes uncommon courage and love to step outside yourself, overcome your natural fears, and put your life on the line to save another person. Those who serve in our Armed Forces stand prepared to do exactly that when called upon. The remarkable thing is that they are defending not only their loved ones at home or their friends fighting beside them in their military unit, but all of us. They stand guard over our nation, our people, and our freedom - and in doing so they uphold the legacy of liberty that's been handed down from generation to generation of patriots. Today is a day for remembering those who took on this great challenge throughout America's history and gave their lives in the process.
We are truly blessed that brave souls have always come forward, in every generation, to defend our country and its founding principles. As the First District's representative to Congress, I am very fortunate because I get to meet quite a few of these heroes from Southern Wisconsin. Regardless of when they served, or what branch of the military they were a part of, talking to them and their families is an inspiration.
One of the services congressional offices provide is helping veterans who have earned medals but never received them to cut through the red tape to get these medals - and the official recognition they deserve. Earlier this year, I presented the Bronze Star Medal to Leonard Susalla of Kenosha, who served with honor in the Army in the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns during World War II. He never expected to receive his military medals and never demanded any special recognition. But his family knew how important his time in the Army was to him, and they contacted us to make sure he got the medals he had earned.
Then there's Sergeant Chris Cook of Mukwonago, who will be receiving his Bronze Star Medal next month. Cook served in an Army National Guard medical unit in Iraq in 2004 and took special interest in security details. When a suicide car bomber attacked his convoy, Sergeant Cook fired two shots, causing the car bomb to detonate earlier than intended and away from the convoy - saving at least three of his fellow soldiers' lives in the process and probably more. Despite his own serious wounds, Cook stayed calm and directed the medics in the aftermath of the explosion.
I bring up these two examples because they show how, throughout different eras and different wars, our troops have shown great character and have put themselves in mortal danger in order to save lives and defend freedom.
When I traveled to Iraq earlier this year and talked with our troops serving there, I was similarly impressed with their character and commitment. These are brave, dedicated, extremely capable people. On this Memorial Day - and every day - let us keep them and their families in our prayers. And let's make sure they know that all Americans are behind them.
It is critical that they get the resources and support they need while they are serving in harm's way and after they return. So, I'm very glad that Congress has finally sent the President legislation to provide the necessary funds for our troops. But we also must ensure that our nation and our communities fulfill our responsibility to them - and to all veterans - after they complete their service. This means making sure they get the benefits and quality health care they have earned, but it also means being there to lend a hand, listen, and provide opportunities that will ease their transition back to civilian life.
For those whose memories we honor today, who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country, we owe them a debt that can never be repaid. But we can be there for their families and we can make certain that their lives and their precious spirits are never forgotten.
This Memorial Day is particularly difficult because our area has suffered so many heartbreaking losses in the current war. Today we remember and honor Sergeant First Class Scott Brown of Brookfield, Staff Sergeant Robert Basham of Kenosha, Private Evan Bixler of Racine, Captain Rhett Schiller of Waterford, Private First Class Eric Clark of Pleasant Prairie, Staff Sergeant Nathan Vacho, and all of Wisconsin's sons and daughters who have given their lives while serving our nation and standing up for freedom.
Their memory will be with us always, and we should look to them as examples and as a source of constant inspiration. They inspire us to rise above selfish concerns and think about our role in protecting and preserving our free society. They inspire us to strive to live up to America's founding principles. And they inspire us to act with courage in the face of hardship and danger.
The sacrifices that individuals like this have made throughout our history are the reason that we remain free today, and they reveal the true source of America's strength. As Ronald Reagan said: "No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women."
We see this courage in our servicemen and women. And we see this in the actions of ordinary people who have acted heroically in moments of crisis. I think about the passengers of United Flight 93, who took on the hijackers on September 11th and prevented that flight from reaching its target in Washington. I think of the Holocaust survivor, 76-year-old Professor Librescu at Virginia Tech, who gave his life barring the door to his classroom so that students could escape out of the windows, when a deranged gunman went on a killing spree earlier this year.
I also think about those in our communities who risk their lives through the day-to-day course of their jobs as firefighters and police officers. They go to work prepared to face the unknown every time they respond to an emergency call and every day they patrol our streets. These are people who run towards gunfire and mayhem - just as everyone else is running away from it.
We were reminded, tragically, of the danger they face when our community lost one of its finest in recent days - Kenosha County sheriff's Deputy Frank Fabiano, Jr. Our prayers are with his family and his fellow officers. I also think it is fitting to mention on this Memorial Day that he was not only an 18-year veteran of the department, but he had also served in the Marine Corps. Here's someone whose whole life was about serving others - in our community and our nation. It's the same sort of character and courage that we see in our troops, our veterans, and the fallen servicemen and women we honor today.
We are living in an age of great promise and potential, but it is also a troubled time. Much will be required of us in the future - especially vigilance, courage, and resolve. Fortunately, we have wonderful role models in those men and women whose memories we honor today. Thank you, and God bless America.