Thank you. It is indeed an honor on this Veterans Day to join the students, staff and faculty of Hermann High School; as well as the leaders of your school board, and members of this community, in honoring the men and women who have proudly served in our nation's military.
I am especially proud that this is an annual ceremony led by students from the school.
What that demonstrates to me is that the young people of this community have a clear appreciation and admiration for what our veterans have done on behalf of our country and our state... how for almost 200 years of statehood, the sons and daughters of Missouri - many of whom are here today - have answered the call of duty.
It is especially moving to see how the students in this school district have raised funds on their own to help send our World War II veterans to Washington to see the memorial in their honor... and to remember our heroes, like Lance Corporal Phillip Vinnedge, through the Fallen Heroes Dream Ride.
I had the chance to meet his family and see this amazing vehicle at the State Fair last year, and I can tell you it is a fitting tribute to Lance Corporal Vinnedge and all his fellow heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. So I want to thank everyone connected with this fundraising effort for all their generosity - you are truly supporting our troops and our veterans.
Today - Veterans Day - is the 95th anniversary of the end of World War I - the Armistice that ended "the war to end all wars." That conflict is a vital part of our state's history and heritage:
It was a Missourian - General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing - who commanded the American armed forces, and became the only living American soldier to attain the rank of General of the Armies...another Missourian, Frank Buckles, was the last surviving veteran of the war, and passed away only three years ago at the age of 109...and a third Missourian, Captain Harry S. Truman of the Missouri National Guard, distinguished himself in battle - laying the groundwork of leadership skills he would call upon 30 years later, as President of the United States.
Missouri also is the home to this country's foremost museum on World War I, which began 100 years ago, next year. The next time you're in Kansas City, I encourage you to visit this outstanding museum.
There are no living memories now from those who fought in World War One - only books, recordings, and black-and-white photos. On Veterans Day, we can only honor the memory of those veterans.
But the gathering here of veterans from the last 70 years - from World War Two and Korea, from the Cold War and Vietnam, from the Persian Gulf and Iraq and Afghanistan - shows that we still have a tremendous resource of a living history with us, in the form of our veterans... Missourians we should respect, honor and admire for what they accomplished, and what they sacrificed - often at an age not much older than the high school students here at Hermann.
This past summer, I spoke at a ceremony in the town of Washington, next door over in Franklin County. The town marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War at the Korean War memorial there. More than 50 veterans of the Korean War were there - perhaps some of them are here today, as well.
Back then, just as in many other wars before and since, young Missourians left their homes in small towns, in big cities, and on farms, to journey to a far-off place to fight for our country.
And, as has happened in other wars, many of them did not return from Korea. They made the ultimate sacrifice, often to save their comrades.
In Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, you can see the names of more than 900 Missourians who gave their lives to protect freedom in that country.
I was at that memorial earlier this year, and laid a wreath to help remember those brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
It was a somber ceremony - just as it also was a moving experience for me to place flowers at the memorial in Normandy, France, this past June to remember the Missourians who died in the Second World War and who are buried there.
The Mayor of a nearby French village, St. Germain d'Elle, had brought a group of schoolchildren to the American Cemetery. We were there to lay flowers at the grave of PFC Woodrow Fitzwater of Montgomery County, who died liberating their town 69 years ago.
The village still remembers the sacrifice of the American soldiers, and a young girl in the group read a poem. Here is the translation of the poem in English:
"I remember a time
That I never knew
I remember a day
That I did not live through
I remember everything
Although I saw nothing
And if I remember
It is because I am free."
At the ceremony in Franklin County this summer, I told the story of one of many Missouri heroes from the Korean War - Medal of Honor recipient Army Private First Class Richard Wilson of Cape Girardeau.
In October 1950, he was a medic - unarmed - in a company moving through a narrow valley, when the enemy attacked. PFC Wilson exposed himself to hostile fire as he cared for the wounded.
As the company withdrew, he helped pull many of his wounded comrades to safety, determined to make sure none were left behind.
Wilson returned one last time to save another soldier - again, under heavy fire. Two days later, his body was found lying beside the man he had gone back to protect. He had used his own body to shield that wounded man.
There are many stories of such heroic and selfless action - not only from the Korean War, but from every war our country has fought - including from Iraq and Afghanistan, where our armed forces continue to protect our freedom.
Just yesterday, I was in Springfield for a ceremony where 100 members of a Missouri National Guard unit are being deployed to the Middle East to be part of our armed forces there, using their skills to repair and maintain helicopters for our armed forces.
As I saw them prepare to say goodbye to their families for almost a year, it was a vivid reminder that today - just as it was true ten, fifty, sixty or seventy years ago - there are Missourians who have been ready and willing to step forward on behalf of their fellow citizens. And behind each of those Missourians has been a family, back here at home.
We are honored to have so many of those brave Missourians here today.
Today, as I look at the faces at those courageous Missourians, I have the opportunity to say this:
Thank you for your brave service to our nation and to freedom-loving people around the world.
Thank you for your sacrifice and willingness to pay the price for freedom. Thank you for the example that you set for all those who followed you in service to our great nation.
And thank you for showing the young people here today that true heroism isn't found on the movie screen, on the pop charts, or even on the athletic field.
It is to be found in the hearts and souls of those who have stood up to be counted, when the need was greatest.
It has always been found in those who make the commitment to service, courage and the knowledge that freedom is not free.
Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of this ceremony. May God bless our veterans and our troops, our country, and the great State of Missouri.