NOTE: The governor frequently deviates from prepared text.
Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, my fellow Texans: Today we remember those who confronted evil with courage, who stood steadfast for freedom and who offered life and limb for America. They are our former soldiers, sailors and airmen - some who never came home - and the many veterans who live among us today.
To every veteran in Texas, I offer the sentiment of a grateful people: Thank you for serving with honor and for preserving our freedoms.
For more than 200 years, generations of Americans have answered great callings. Lieutenant Robert Rankin, Sergeant Stephen Williams and their entire generation of American Revolutionaries gave birth to liberty. Successive generations would settle the vast frontier, build great industries and schools, and defend freedom from the forces of oppression on battlefields around the globe.
From 1776 until today, if you are so fortunate as to call yourself an American, then you have been blessed with that uniquely American trait: the desire to test the utmost potential of freedom. As Americans, we remain freedom's greatest friend and democracy's greatest guardian.
The proof is not in the rhetoric. It is in the still, quiet cemeteries where white crosses and stars of David mark the remains of those who made their last stand for freedom. They are the men and women who stormed the beaches, who fought in trenches and foxholes, who took to the air and to the sea and who never ran from the sound of the guns. They did the hard jobs and fought the tough fights, seldom seeking the glory of a nation, only the mercy of a just God.
We observe Memorial Day because great sacrifices should never be forgotten. Our freedom is a precious gift purchased at a great cost - a cost measured in human lives. To honor such sacrifices, it is right to gather in remembrance, to plant flowers at the gravesites of the loved and lost, and to raise the stars and stripes with pride over every corner of this land.
But to truly honor the sacrifices of our veterans, we have a responsibility greater than remembrance, and that is the duty to ensure the freedom they fought for is preserved for generations to come. Our history remains a living document with new chapters written by successive generations. That history teaches us important lessons. Tyrants should not be appeased. The use of force should never be compromised. And strength equals deterrence.
Like past generations of Americans, tragedy has not only taught us about the treachery of our enemies, but the character of our nation. On September 11th, the darkest of all days, we witnessed a people determined, not defeated united, not divided. America has shown again and again that the destructive designs of terrorists and tyrants are no match for the moral courage of free men and women, and that includes the American soldiers of this generation. The men and women who liberated Kuwait, who liberated Afghanistan and just weeks ago liberated Iraq.
Those who wonder if the current generation of Americans is equal to the great generations of our past should listen to the words of a Time Magazine correspondent who was embedded with the 101st Airborne. After a deranged soldier committed an unthinkable act - exploding a grenade inside his own officers' tent - writer Jim Lacey describes what ensued.
He writes: "I stood in amazement as two captains (Townlee Hendrick and Tony Jones) directed the evacuation of the wounded, established a hasty defense, and helped to organize a search for the culprit. They did all this despite bleeding heavily from their wounds.
"For over six hours, these two men ran things while refusing to be evacuated until they were sure all of the men in their command were safe."
And then Mr. Lacey leaves us with an image I will never forget. He writes that two days later Captain Jones left the hospital and hitchhiked back to the unit, "dressed only in boots, a hospital gown and a flak vest" because he had heard his unit was going into combat.
The 1st Brigade Commander, Colonel Hodges, "didn't feel he had the right to tell another man not to fight. Hodges himself had elected to leave two grenade fragments in his arm so that he could return to his command as quickly as possible."
That is just one story of many. Never before has the world seen an army capable of such great force and great compassion compassion that extended not only to their fellow soldiers, but the people they liberated.
After more than 200 years, the idea of America is alive and well. Our belief in freedom stems from our faith in mankind. We know that those who experience freedom will never seek to relinquish it but will defend it with a fervor and a purpose that no dictator can place in the hearts and minds of his subjects.
Today we recognize the defenders of freedom, the liberators of oppressed people, the veterans of many wars. Wherever America has engaged the enemy, her soldiers have never let her down.
To the veterans here today, a grateful nation offers its highest praise. We are free because you were brave. The hour of danger was your hour of courage. And as you pass the torch to future generations, we stand here today to affirm that your heroic deeds will never be forgotten. Your service to America will be remembered always. May God bless you, and may God bless America.