U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following remarks to the Prescott Memorial Day Ceremony at the Bob Stump Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Prescott, Arizona:
"Thank you Amy, and thank you to all the dedicated staff of this hospital, who give their talent and industry and hearts to helping America honor its obligations to our veterans.
"As we observe another Memorial Day holiday, many Americans will greet it as the unofficial beginning of summer, and a good day, weather permitting, for picnics and golf and softball, fishing and hiking, and all manner of outdoor recreation. And in cemeteries all over the country a bugler will sound Taps to remind us of the sacrifices the day is intended to commemorate.
"At Arlington National Cemetery, soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Brigade will place a small American flag at the headstone of more than a quarter million graves; headstones that bear names of every ethnic origin; that mark the final resting places of professional soldiers and conscripts; rich and poor; Christian, Jew, and Muslim; believer and non believer; descendents of Mayflower pilgrims and immigrants who had barely arrived in the country when they took up arms to defend her; dark skinned and white; city dwellers and people from small towns and farms; teachers and machinists; businessmen and day laborers; poets and presidents. Families in every place in America have a relative or ancestor buried there.
"Besides their common humanity, only one thing for certain connects each of the men and women who are interred at Arlington, and with their fellow veterans resting in all our cemeteries and in foreign fields around the world. They loved our country, and risked everything to defend her.
"Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the cruel reality of war. War is wretched beyond all description. When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue. The lives of a nation's finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted; economies are damaged; strategic interests shielded by years of patient statecraft are endangered as the exigencies of war and diplomacy conflict. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. We should shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us.
"War might not be the worst fate to befall a country, but it is a terrible thing nonetheless. Ward Farley and our other veterans here today know that, you who endured the heartache and deprivations of war so that the worst thing would not befall us; so that America might be secure in her freedom. We honor you. We are humbled by your example, and chastened in our pride that we, too, in our own way, have tried to give our country some good service. It may be true or it may not, but no matter how measurable others' contributions to this blessed country, they are a poor imitation of yours. They know how little they have given compared to your service, and the solemn and terrible sacrifice made by those who did not return with you to the country you loved so well.
"At Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima and Midway, Normandy and the Ardennes Forest, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe San and the I Drang Valley, Kandahar and Fallujah, all these battles, all these grim tests of courage and character, have made a legend of the combat veteran's devotion to duty in every community in America. It is a lesson in courage and patriotism that helps instruct those who defend our country today in their duty. And it instructs those of us who don't have the burden of bearing arms for our country.
"Our country doesn't depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to love our freedom, not just for the private opportunities it provides, but for the goodness it makes possible. We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as the brave Americans who defend us at the risk and often the cost of their lives. We must love it enough to argue about it, and to work together to serve its interests, in whatever way our abilities permit and our conscience requires, whether it calls us to arms or to altruism or to politics.
"It is a surpassing irony that war, for all its horrors, provides the combatant with every conceivable human experience. Experiences that usually take a lifetime to know are all felt -- and felt intensely -- in one brief moment of life. Anyone who loses a loved one knows what great sorrow feels like. Anyone who gives life to a child knows what great joy feels like. The veteran knows what great joy and great loss feel like when they occur in the same moment, in the same experience.
"Such an experience is transforming. Some come home and struggle to recover their balance which war had upset. For those who came home whole in spirit if not in body, the hard uses of life would seldom threaten their equanimity. You have known the worst terrors the world holds, and you've seen acts of compassion and love that no evil could destroy. You've seen mankind at its most dehumanized, and its most noble. No other experience will ever surpass its effect on your lives. And you can never forget it.
"If war has any glory, it is a hard pressed, bloody, and awful glory that no one who hasn't experienced it can ever completely understand. It is the glory of knowing you withstood the savagery and cruelty and madness of war to do your duty to the country that sent you there, and you were not found wanting by the comrades who stood next to you.
"Today, Americans are fighting in faraway places most Americans will never see. They suffer as you once suffered. They are brave as you were once brave. They, like you, will never be the same again. And years from now, on some Memorial Day that many of us won't see, when their fellow Americans are celebrating the beginning of summer, and the comforts of life in a safe and successful country, they will bow their heads to mourn the sacrifices made to secure that future. You know the world we live in is an uncertain one. It still holds dangers for us and for everyone for whom freedom is the habit of their heart. Man's inhumanity to man is an evil that will never be entirely extinct. And no matter how long a peace endures, it is always temporary. Americans will always be asked again to bear burdens that only the brave can endure. That burden will be their duty, as it once was yours.
"But it is a better world than our fathers inherited and their fathers before them; a world purchased at great and terrible cost by sacrifices on killing grounds that are now green fields and quiet beaches in peaceful corners of the world. We should be proud of what they did; proud and humble. Humble in the knowledge we enjoy our freedom because of the devotion of Americans who sacrificed everything to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity -those Americans for whom duty, honor, their comrades and their country were dearer to them than life itself.
"When the time came for them to answer their country's call and fight on a field they did not know, they came. And on small islands, dense jungles and mountainsides, in the air and on and below the sea, they served well the country that sent them there. In the fog of hard battles, won and lost, they held high a lantern of courage and faith that illuminated the way home with honor.
"History does not remember all of them as individuals. We don't even know where they all rest. But we must not forget what they did. Their honor is eternal and will live in our country for so long as she remains worthy of their sacrifice. They were family and friends to some, heroes to all - who lived, fought and died for the safety and future of a great and good nation.
"God bless them and grant them perpetual peace."