Honor. Duty. Sacrifice. Integrity. Courage. Loyalty. More than words, these are legacies; the legacies of every American Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Nurse, Medic and Chaplain who was lost in service to their country.
Every home, and every American family, has in some way been touched by war and been graced by a hero's legacy, something that hits particularly close to home on a day like Memorial Day.
My own father served as a tailgunner in World War II, flying in 35 hazardous missions over war-torn Europe, doing his part to liberate millions from tyranny. His mission accomplished, he returned home, seeking neither credit nor acclaim, and went to work farming his little corner of Paint Creek, Texas, living his life and raising his family in the land of liberty and freedom he fought so bravely to protect.
After WWII, our country enjoyed just a short period of peace before the call came again, this time to defend South Korea. More than 100,000 Americans were killed or wounded in that campaign. And then, just a few short years later, it was time for another generation of patriots to step forward, this time in Vietnam.
It was a time of great national strife, and a war that many believe our leaders were not prepared to win. By the time Vietnam was over, more than 58,000 would give their last full measure of devotion to the cause.
For those who gave their lives during the war in Southeast Asia, our memories of their sacrifices are given substance in the cool, black granite of The Wall in Washington, D.C.
There, the names of 58,000 are listed - each one a lost brother or father, a desperately missed son or daughter. Viewing those names is a striking - and at times overwhelming - experience, especially with the knowledge that behind every one of those names is a face, and a unique story - a story of valor, courage and loss.
The challenge before us remains to tell those stories, and to bring to life the history and echoes of The Wall for future generations.
A valuable key to meeting that challenge will be The Education Center at The Wall. Slated to be placed on the National Mall near The Wall, the Center - with the help of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund - will work to ensure that the stories and sacrifices of our heroes from Vietnam, and every American conflict, will never be forgotten.
As a Vietnam-era veteran myself, I was never called into battle ... but I know some of the names on The Wall. I know their stories. As always, I am humbled by their sacrifice.
Today those stories are being repeated by our sons and daughters who fought, or fight still, in Iraq and Afghanistan. These valiant souls are living by the same code of honor that led their forerunners, dating back to the American Revolution. They live by this code, no matter the cost.
Their memories, and their stories, must be preserved as well.
Like The Wall itself, the second-most visited site in Washington, the Education Center will be built entirely with private funds donated by you, the American people. On display each day will be hundreds of thousands of personal items and mementoes left at The Wall in tribute to fallen loved ones. The Center will also feature photographs of every American who was lost in the Vietnam War, providing all who visit an opportunity to see the faces, not just the names, of the men and women who gave all.
We must never forget. As we mark this Memorial Day, now is the time to make sure we never do. Please visit http://www.BuildtheCenter.org, and do whatever you can to help us ensure that the stories behind every name, and every face, will live on for future generations.