Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr.
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
67th Honolulu Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony
National Military Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl)
May 30, 2016
(Introduced by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell)
Thanks, Mr. Mayor, for the introduction and – more importantly – for the leadership you provide to all of us that serve here in Hawaii. Your understanding of the intersection of local government and the military mission is critical to our success.
Before starting, I'd like to acknowledge
- Governor and Mrs. David Ige
- Senator Brian Schatz
- Ms. Tanouye
- Ms. Lauren Hernandez, who’s representing Senator Mazie Hirono’s office
- All of the veterans in attendance
- Members of the Consular and Diplomatic Corps
- Distinguished guests
- Fellow flag and general officers
- Ladies and gentlemen
- And last, but certainly not least, to the families and loved ones of those buried here, and in similar sacred soil around the world:
Let the inscription at the base of the statue of the Lady Columbia at the top of the staircase offer you solace – the same solace that Abraham Lincoln, in 1864, offered to Mrs. Bixby, who lost five sons on the field of battle. It reads, “The solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.”
Today, we remember your loved ones with you.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's a privilege for me to return here to 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 beloved Punchbowl – on this day of remembrance. The many thousands of patriots interred here around us and among us serve as a vivid reminder of whom, and what we must remember.
If you believe, as I do, that God implants an intense desire in every human heart to live in freedom, then this holiday – in which we remember and honor all service men and women who freely gave of their lives so we might live in freedom – is a most special and sacred day. This is why we gathered here to remember: because the spirit of freedom will never let us forget.
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.
Remember our war dead.
President Calvin Coolidge once said “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” Today, by remembering their ultimate sacrifices, we honor the lives of our fellow patriots in a personal way.
Were their lives sacrificed in vain? No. These men and women, known and unknown, fought for ideals that transcended their individual lives. They fought, and died, so that their fellow Americans could remain free. These patriots, ladies and gentlemen, are certainly worthy of our remembrance, and of our love. And they deserve no less. We should thank God that such men and women lived.
Freedom and liberty are precious. They are fleeting if we take them for granted – if we don't work at them, sustain them, and magnify them. And sadly, they are rare commodities in this world, but common in our nation. They demand our protection. They demand, unfortunately, that some will pay for this protection with their lives.
Americans in every generation since the founding of our nation in the Revolution have volunteered to give their lives in defense of the freedom for which the United States stands. These men and women come from all walks of life and from every corner of our great nation. Many called Hawaii home, and they have willingly given their lives in defense of these ideals throughout our nation’s history.
Remember the people that sacrificed everything.
Memorial Day speeches often harken back to those great defining conflicts of the 20th Century: World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam – and rightfully so. But today, I want us to reflect on the fact that America has been at war for most of the 21st Century – so I’d like us to take a minute to remember a few ‘local’ men who were killed during Operation Enduring Freedom. Their remains lie here in this crater, marked by simple and modest stones. These men were our neighbors here in Hawaii, our guardians, and they are our heroes:
- Army Private First Class J. R. Salvacion, 27 years old; Section R, Site 512. He was killed February 21, 2010 in Senjaray, Afghanistan, when his unit was attacked by an enemy improvised explosive device. He was born in the Philippines, but moved to Aiea as a young man to join his family.
- Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Don Viray, 25 years old; Section Q, Site 383-A. He died April 19, 2012 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a medevac mission. He was from Waipahu.
- Air Force Captain Reid Nishizuka, 30 years old; Section I, Site 1584. He died April 27, 2013 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when his MC-12 Liberty aircraft crashed during a combat operation. He was from Kailua.
- Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Edward Balli, 42 years old; Section I, Site 492. He was killed January 20, 2014 by small arms fire during an insurgent attack on his base in southern Afghanistan. He was born in California, but called Kapolei home.
Remember them: our neighbors, who lived among us oh so recently.
These were all ordinary men who took up arms to defend freedom and liberty around the world. Each had their own unique story. Each was someone’s son, brother, husband, or friend. Each gave his last full measure.
President 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 that 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."
Let us lift up the memories of these men so that their families gain comfort in the knowledge that their loved ones did not die in vain. They died heroes.
If we fail to ritualize and evangelize this day and its purpose, we risk forgetting all of those patriots – like those brave souls I just named – who gave their lives so that we could all remain free. As a Byzantine emperor famously said, “the nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”
The sacrifices we saw in the wars of the 20th Century, we see in the present day as, once again, our world faces a grave threat. This time, the threat comes from a global network of terrorists who despise everything freedom stands for, and who are determined to inflict as much pain and suffering as they can possibly muster on behalf of their cause.
This enemy is less visible, but no less intent on domination and victory. Today – at this very moment – Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines stand again in harm’s way, defending our very way of life. And men hold no monopoly on bravery... on courage... on sacrifice.
Just like those here, today's warriors – men and women who wear proudly the Cloth of the Nation – are likely young, scared, 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 keep us free. They are the very marrow of our Nation’s bone – these men and women 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 don't look for the exit sign. They look for the service entrance, and they march boldly through it every day.
Mayor Caldwell, ladies and gentlemen – it’s customary at events like these, on occasions like this, to invoke the famous poem "In Flanders Fields." But I choose instead to recall the words of poet Moina Michael, who wrote in 1918:
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields ...
We caught the torch you threw,
And holding high, we keep the Faith,
With All who died.
Our young men and women in uniform who serve in dangerous places today are holding high that torch, and keeping faith with those whom we remember and commemorate here.
America is the country she is because of her heroes, past and present.
May God bless each and every one of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, past and present, who answered – and answer – that clarion call to duty. May God bless this beautiful State of Hawaii, and may God bless America.