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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | May 31, 2017

Roll Call of Honor in Remembrance Ceremony

By ADM Harry Harris U.S. Pacific Command

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

Roll Call of Honor in Remembrance Ceremony
National Military Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl)

May 28, 2017
As Delivered

Thank you, Senator Schatz and Congresswoman Gabbard, for those inspiring remarks. I’m daunted following these top tier leaders to the podium.

Before starting, I'd also like to acknowledge
٠ Senator Schatz and Congresswoman Gabbard…
٠ Political and community leaders…
٠ General Crockett and Captain Pauole – thank you for organizing this ceremony…
٠ Colonel Horton, and all of you who work tirelessly to take such great care of our nation’s veterans laid to rest here – thank you…
٠ Fellow flag and general officers…
٠ Distinguished guests… veterans…
٠ And finally – but most importantly – families and loved ones of those buried here and in other revered resting places, known and unknown, around the world…

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m deeply honored to speak to you at this beautiful place, this hallowed ground, this sepulchered field of illustrious men and women – these 112 acres of sacred soil of the National Military Cemetery of the Pacific – our cherished Punchbowl. The thousands of patriots interred here around us and among us serve as a solemn reminder of whom, and what, we must remember.

As General Mark Hertling wrote, quote: "We honor their sacrifice by making a commitment to serve our nation and each other. We have an obligation to honor their memories by the way we lead our lives, the way we speak, the way we act, and the way we carry on each day." Unquote.

If you believe as I do: that God implants an intense desire in every human heart to live in freedom, then this Memorial Day weekend – in which we remember and honor all service members who freely gave their lives so we might live in freedom – is a most special and sacred time of remembrance.

Now, I’m no expert on the Good Book, and I prefer to leave the preaching to preachers like Reverend Borabora here, who gave today’s inspiring invocation… but I do know that in the Book of Ezekiel, God was searching for a person who would stand in the gap to defend a new nation – a warrior who would represent the honor and integrity of the people.

Thankfully, our nation has always been blessed to have strong women and men with exceptional courage – people willing and able to stand in the gap and defend America whenever Lady Liberty is threatened.

And they've answered the clarion call to defend our nation time and time again, on every front and in every battle. From our war for independence more than 240 years ago, to World War I, to Pearl Harbor and World War II, to Korea and Vietnam, to 9/11 and our current fight in Afghanistan, to Iraq, to the ongoing battle against ISIS, and every war in between, America’s brave sons and daughters have willingly come forward to stand in the gap.

We gather here today because the spirit of freedom will never let us forget the more than one million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and civilians who gave their lives to secure our freedoms and defend our great nation.

The heroes resting here, and around the world, answered our nation’s call. They were America’s sword and shield, its sentry and avenger, defending Lady Liberty with their very lives.

President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘most of those who died in defense of our country were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives – the one they were living, and the one they would have lived. They gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers… they gave up everything for their country, for us. All we can do is remember.’

But men hold no monopoly on patriotism, on gallantry, on service to country. We also remember, and honor, the women who served a cause greater than themselves and, in too many instances, gave of themselves as well. I am deeply inspired by their stories of heroism and sacrifice.

My father and four of his brothers fought during World War II. I grew up hearing their stories about the exploits from the moment I could form a memory. All of them are gone now, but I can still hear their sea stories and foxhole tales.

And while we remember the heroes of the Greatest Generation, many of which you will find buried in these grounds, I’m also moved by the sure knowledge of what happened in the PACOM area of responsibility, just one half century ago, in Southeast Asia.

So, today, at this Roll Call of Honor, I express my deepest respect and special appreciation for our fallen of the Vietnam War.

While Memorial Day is about remembering the fallen, I'd like the Vietnam Veterans in the audience, if you can, to stand up so that we can thank you as we remember your fallen comrades.

Ladies and gentlemen, the men and women standing here today are real American heroes… 2.7 million Americans served in uniform in the Vietnam War; more than 58,000 of these patriots made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the United States on distant soil and foreign waters. And almost 2,000 remain missing and unaccounted for, even to this day.

Consider the enormity of their courage in battles like Huế City and Khe Sanh, in places like Quảng Trị or Thud Ridge, and during operations like Rolling Thunder, Linebacker, and Market Time.

Today, we remember our Vietnam War heroes – those who returned home, and those who didn’t. I invite you to walk around after the ceremony and read the names inscribed on these stones and on these walls.

This is not an esoteric exercise. The sacrifice is all around us. It’s real.

Buried here are ordinary women and men who took up arms to answer their nation’s call with extraordinary service. Each had their own unique story. Each was someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother, husband, wife or friend. Each was willing to give their last full measure of devotion. Each rests among us.

Too many of our Vietnam Veterans did not receive the hero’s welcome they deserved when they returned from America’s war in Southeast Asia. Our country owes an immeasurable debt to these men and women; and, of course, to all of our veterans.

Just like many of those laid to rest here, today's warriors – men and women who wear proudly the cloth of the nation – are likely just as young and filled with uncertainty about the future. But just like those who came before them, they prove every day that they have what it takes to answer our nation's call. They are the very marrow of America’s bone – these patriots who fight to define our character and defend our principles. They are willing to offer everything, even their lives, for their country… and for you and me.

When faced with certain danger, our young men and women in uniform today don't look for the exit sign. They look for the service entrance, and they march boldly through it every day. Just like those we honor here at Punchbowl this Memorial Day.

Today’s service women and men are proud to follow in the footsteps of the millions of warriors who sacrificed to construct the greatest nation in the history of mankind – our United States of America.

As the Joint Force Commander here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, I give you my word that the nearly 400,000 military and civilians that comprise the U.S. Pacific Command are ready to fight tonight, and win, so that we may always be free.

So I’ll conclude by saying that today’s joint forces have assumed liberty’s mantle, passed down in an unbroken chain, watch-to-watch, for centuries. No one should doubt that a strong U.S. military will continue to stand a global watch for generations to come, as the legacy and lessons of previous wars are passed to our children, and our children’s children, who will also stand the watch to continue the fight against oppression, against injustice and against those who seek to take our freedom.

May God bless those laid to rest here at Punchbowl. May God bless our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen – past and present – who stood the watch and answered that clarion call to duty. May God bless the beautiful state of Hawaii and may God bless the United States of America, which has always been, and forever shall be, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Thank you very much.


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