Prepared Statement of Rep. Elton Gallegly of California
"In Memory" Plaque Unveiling at Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Thank you General Herrling.
It's been 29 years since the Vietnam War ended, and we continue to find ways to honor those who fought and died on behalf of their country. Today, we add to that honor.
I became involved with this project when a constituent wrote to me in 1999, told me about the Vietnam War In Memory Memorial Plaque project, and asked me to introduce and pass legislation to create the plaque we unveil today. Families of fallen heroes need a symbol of healing, something they can touch and remember.
My colleagues quickly agreed. Within seven months, more than two-thirds of my colleagues in the House of Representatives had signed on as co-sponsors. In the Senate, my friend, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, persuaded 51 of his colleagues-more than half-to cosponsor the bill. Both chambers passed the bill in May 2000 without dissent and President Clinton signed it into law on June 9, 2000.
For Congress, that's akin to a lightning strike.
The Vietnam War Memorial contains the names of more than 58,000 heroes who died in battle or from the wounds they suffered while in Vietnam. But it doesn't contain every name. Some wounds are harder to diagnose than others. For those who suffered from Agent Orange exposure or post-traumatic stress syndrome, the wounds are deep and often just as deadly, but harder to diagnose conclusively. These men and women served their country, they suffered because of the service they gave to their country, and they paid the ultimate price for their service to their country. We honor them today.
Veterans, families of veterans, and ordinary Americans gather at our memorials to meet, swap stories, get to know one another, and learn about the great history and the great sacrifice men and women have endured on America's behalf. It is here that we pray for lives lost in Vietnam more than a generation ago, and pray for lives in peril today in Afghanistan and Iraq, in other nations, and within our own homeland.
My hope today is that the In Memory Plaque will act as a bridge of understanding. That it will advance the healing of a nation and of its people. That it will bring some peace to the families who lost their loved ones.
There are, of course, many people who made today a reality, and if I tried to list them all I would surely leave somebody out. I'd like to thank my friend Senator Campbell for his help in moving the bill through the Senate, and for all he has done for our veterans and our military.
I would especially like to thank Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, whose steadfast dedication to provide a place for families to grieve, remember, and heal is the reason we stand here today.
Also, Major General John Herrling, thank you for all you have done on behalf of our country, our military and our veterans.
My former staffer, Brian Clifford, whose efforts made sure the bill was passed and signed into law within seven months, also deserves thanks.
I also thank our veterans, and the military men and women who now serve our country. And I thank the families of veterans and our military, who join in the sacrifice to keep America strong and free. You are in our thoughts and prayers.