Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Veterans’ Day Ceremony
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, HI
November 11, 2017
How about another round of applause for the wonderful performances by both Halaus, Dana, and the Liberty Belles today?
Folks, it's an honor to stand here in this company of heroes – veterans, service members, and civilian leaders who support our military – patriots all. Thanks so much for being here today. But before getting started, let me take a moment to acknowledge:
- Admiral Grocki and the Oahu Veterans Council – thank you for organizing this ceremony;
- Ms. McEldowney, thank you for your insightful remarks this morning and for your service to our great nation and additional sacrifice as a spouse;
- Special thanks to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for hosting this event, and to all those who had a hand in its planning;
- Governor Ige, members of the consular and diplomatic corps – including Chief Minister Gunner from Australia;
- Fellow flag and general officers… Admiral Bertrand, Captain Woolston;
- Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, fellow veterans…
Today, as we gather on this hallowed ground – these 112 acres of sacred soil – at this, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the final resting place of so many of our nation’s veterans – our heroes – we contemplate their many sacrifices and reflect on their many achievements.
As I stand here at the base of the Honolulu Memorial, beneath the watchful gaze of Lady Columbia, I stand at a place seemingly designed for witness and testimony, for talking story of our heroes past and present, to remember them and what they did for our nation.
I am reminded of the high price Hawaii paid in our conflicts – the price paid by those who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and our wars in the Middle East – a price paid not only because of Hawaii’s proximity to the front lines, but because of the willingness of Hawaii’s sons and daughters to serve in our Armed Forces.
It’s truly a privilege for me to be here: as a Sailor, as an American and as a veteran. I can think of no place I would rather be today than with each of you… a community of veterans, of supporters, and of loyal patriots.
This day gives us all a precious opportunity to reflect – to reflect on what it means to be a patriot, to reflect on what it means to be a nation tested by war, and to reflect on both the costs and the blessings of liberty.
Since General George Washington commanded the Continental Army, over 40 million Americans have served in our nation’s armed forces… and one million have given their lives in its defense.
There can be no doubt that America’s fighting men and women have given much to ensure that our great nation stays free. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who served… to all those who were injured… and especially to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Ladies and gentlemen, on the night of September 11, 2001, when President George Bush addressed the nation, he said ‘America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.’
And today, members of our Armed Services are deployed around the world… at sea, in the air, and on land… they protect our national interests to ensure America’s beacon of light continues to shine, even to the farthest and darkest reaches of the globe.
Now, I’m no expert on the Good Book, and I prefer to leave the preaching to Chaplain Shimotsu here, who gave this morning’s inspirational invocation. But I do know that in the book of Ezekiel, God was searching for someone 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 men and women with exceptional courage. People willing and able to stand in the gap and defend America whenever Lady Liberty is threatened.
And they’ve answered that 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 and engage our enemies, even to the ends of the Earth – and we are still at it today.
For 242 years, the men and women of our nation have stepped forward to serve in our armed forces and defend our freedoms. They have risked their lives for the land, for the people, and for the ideals that we all cherish.
Our battles, our victories – indeed, our way of life – are owed not to great moments or important dates. They are owed to the actions and sacrifices of these men and women who were willing to step into the breach for their country and for the cause of freedom.
America is the country she is because of her heroes, past and present. People who put the nation’s interest above self-interest… who put patriotism above profit… and who put love of country above love of self.
Now, more than ever, America needs men and women who are willing to forego wearing a business suit, forego strolling down Easy Street, and forego living the good life. To wear instead the cloth of the nation. To travel instead along an uncertain road fraught with peril. To live instead a life on the ragged edge of danger. To live lives that matter.
Our veterans made that conscious choice to live a life of sacrifice and service for the greater cause… and for America… that has made all the difference.
And while they each walked a different road, they all faced challenges, and they’ve proven themselves well-equipped to meet those challenges. President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘When life gets tough and the crisis is undeniably at hand… we will find nothing inside ourselves that we have not already put there.’
Think about that. The character inside each and every one of our veterans isn’t just transferred into the fabric of their being the moment it’s needed… it can’t be e-mailed into the hard drives of their spirits or souls and then installed as needed. Character is woven in us over a life-long process that begins in our homes, continues through boot camp, and matures through our interactions and experiences in the services. Growing up, all of us learned these things from those who influence us… from our parents, grandparents, teachers, and any number of mentors who helped us along the way as we became the person we are now.
Our veterans come from all across America, representing the diversity and character of our great nation – and our military is stronger for it. They’re leaders and volunteers, inside and outside of the service. They’re role models for all of our citizens. They want to achieve and they want to win. Their fighting spirit is the backbone of our great nation. They exemplify the highest standards of service – at home and abroad… at sea and ashore… in combat and in times of peace.
Today, our United States military is second to none – we have the most advanced technology, warships, submarines, and aircraft in the world. But the best equipment means little if you don’t have the hard-working, highly trained and dedicated workforce to bring those platforms to life. Our nation’s brave men and women… the intrepid souls who have chosen the warrior's way… are the cherished lifeblood that fuels the heart of the greatest nation on Earth.
And of course my tribute would simply not be complete if I didn’t recognize the families of those who serve… our military families. They also sacrifice so much for our nation. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons… close friends and loved ones.
When our military members deploy abroad, they leave behind their families, their friends… who in their absence soldier on… life as normal – only you and I know it’s anything but normal.
Across the many distant miles that separate them… over the weeks and months that divide them… those who are deployed abroad are always in our thoughts… and our prayers. Those who stay behind carry the concerns, and the worries, and the fears that their loved ones might go in harm’s way.
For our military families… theirs has never been an easy burden.
So as we thank those who serve, let’s also remember our heroes on the home front. Our nation’s military forces simply could not carry out our duties without the critical support our families and loved ones provide every day.
To those families holding down the home front: I salute you today.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we’re approaching an inflection point in history. We’re certainly not approaching anything resembling the end of history. Freedom and justice hang in the balance. And the scale won’t tip of its own accord simply because we wish it would.
Our nation continues to draw her strength from those who have served in the past… and those who are serving today. And our nation will continue to draw strength from those who will serve tomorrow: an unbroken chain, linking Americans, generation to generation… keeping that scale of freedom tipping in America’s favor.
Our strength as a nation also comes from loyal citizens like each of you in the audience today – Americans who are aware of the challenges,
aware of the opportunities, and aware of the dangers we face.
Those of us who serve are grateful for patriots like you, who support us; who support our families when we are deployed; who help make us what we are today: the world’s greatest force for stability and peace on the face of the Earth – and I’m grateful for all that you do.
So I’ll conclude by saying that today your 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 you and every one of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, DoD civilians, National Guardsmen and our reservists – past and present – who answered our nation’s call to duty.
May God bless this truly 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.