By General Norton A. Schwartz - 05/25/10 10:01 PM EDT
Inspired by a common desire for freedom, but forged through a revolution by the exceptional few who answered the call to arms, our Nation has rightly honored those who have donned its cloth and given their lives in its defense.
When Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971 into Public Law 90-363, our Nation officially and collectively acknowledged more than a century of tradition in honoring our fallen, dating back to Major General John A. Logan, the national commander of an association of former soldiers and sailors known as the Grand Army of the Republic. In his General Order No. 11, General Logan designated May 30, 1868, as a day to honor Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Highest Patriotic Tradition
From “the shot heard ’round the world” in Lexington on April 19, 1775, to their current exceptional efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, our service men and women continue to sacrifice in extraordinarily selfless ways. They have served faithfully as a fledgling nation was torn asunder, later helping to facilitate its reunion and heal its wounds. Soldiers and Marines have stormed beaches under unimaginable, withering fire; Sailors have defended vast oceans against formidable enemy navies; and Airmen in massed bomber formations have darkened the skies over our enemies. All singularly courageous, our veterans dashed our adversaries’ hopes for success, and rescued a waiting world from the advancing menace of tyranny and oppression.
Our service members then became stalwart sentinels during the Cold War, and maintained their preparedness—responding to actual hostilities where necessary—as the promising twilight of the twentieth century gave way to the ambiguous and uncertain dawn of the twenty-first century.
Today, our service men and women, bound by common purpose, continue to serve in the highest patriotic tradition. They are committed to prevailing in today’s conflicts, remain vigilant for threats that have yet to emerge, and stand ready for other challenges that are as yet unrevealed. On behalf of all Americans, most of whom they have never met, our troops continue to help preserve that which we all hold most dear.
Secretary Donley and I are, as always, distinctly privileged to represent the men and women of the United States Air Force, who proudly serve alongside our Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard teammates. Around the world, Airmen provide global mobility by air; combat air power that secures control of the airspace over friendly surface forces; global communications, situational awareness, and precision navigation and timing from space; and strategic deterrence for the Nation, through their stewardship of our nuclear bomber and ballistic missile forces. The nearly 40,000 Airmen who are deployed to over 260 locations worldwide are serving in harm’s way and in a variety of warfighting roles—from operations to logistics, from medical support to intelligence processing, from commanding reconstruction teams to supporting vital diplomatic efforts, and so much more. In whatever capacity, they stand proudly with their Joint teammates. We have every confidence in the success of their missions, but reserve our most heartfelt wish for their safe return home.
As we approach Memorial Day, we pause also to consider the broader sense of giving back to our Nation, as exemplified by our service men and women who have toiled so that we may enjoy the many blessings of liberty, and who, time and again, have said, “Send me,” so that we may realize unbounded opportunity.
We also necessarily honor the families of the fallen, who, with exceptional generosity, provided loving support for, and granted distinct meaning to, the service of their loved ones. Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers—they all served and sacrificed in their own very quiet, but certainly consequential and truly valued way.
During this time of war, remembrance is particularly poignant as we honor the recently fallen. The profound sense of loss can still grip us, as their names are inscribed on that hallowed roster, among the more than one million Americans in our Nation’s history who have given “their last full measure of devotion.” They died in defense of liberty, equality, fairness, and self-determination—among our Nation’s most timeless and valued ideals. May the memory of our fallen heroes never fade from our individual and national consciousness.
Gen. Schwartz is the Chief of the Staff of the U.S. Air Force