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Congressman Buck McKeon

Memorial Day: “Honoring our Hometown Heroes”

It was once said that, “Four things support the world: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the good, and the valor of the brave.”  During the Memorial holiday, we unite to honor our brave and memorialize for eternity those who sacrificed all for our country.  We reflect upon those heroes that served America and pursued democracy with fearless determination.  We ponder all that brought our country to this moment in history and dream of what is still to come.

The work I do while away from home in Washington, D.C. on the House Armed Services Committee is intermittently laced with stinging reminders of the prices paid by families, communities, and as a country toward the cost of freedom, liberty, and security.

Our own community – the 25th Congressional District – has lost thirty-seven sons on the battlefield since September the eleventh, most recently Specialist Rudy Acosta, who died in Afghanistan earlier this spring. The courage and heroism, exemplified by all these men, is the very foundation on which this great Republic thrives.

Memorial Day is our time to applaud, remember, and honor those who walked the hero’s path.  When I think of our own who have fallen in defense of our freedom, I think of General Norman Schwarzkopf, who said that “it doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

In 1868, General John Logan signed General Order number 11, declaring that the 30th day of May would be set aside for laying wreaths and flowers at the graves of fallen soldiers.  It is said that the date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom throughout the country. That army order was adopted by northern states over the years, ultimately becoming the federal holiday we celebrate today.

By definition, Memorial Day is a day to remember.  But it is also a day of thanks.

We thank Soldiers and Marines, Sailors and Airman for standing watch on the opposite end of the earth, watching over our friends and our families.  We thank our National Guard for standing on the fragile levies of the Mississippi, holding back the waters and protecting the south from nature’s wrath.  We thank our reservists for leaving their families and their friends and their jobs to fight in a long, tough war.  We thank our Veterans for making our communities a better place to live, and for teaching us the responsibility that comes with our American citizenship. And we thank the families of all of these warriors, for giving them the spiritual strength to keep our country safe.

Memorial Day is not just about honoring the past. We also dedicate this day to the sacrifices of the present, knowing that they were made to preserve our future. This is the ninth straight Memorial Day that our nation has been at war. And this is the ninth straight Memorial Day that our American homeland has been safe from harm.  It is because of the sacrifice of our brave troops that we gather together, free from fear, and safe within our borders.  Despite a decade’s worth of conflict we continue to go to war with an army of volunteers.

All our brave troops have willingly answered the call, knowing that they would be put into harm’s way.  So during this time, I urge all of you to remember those who serve as defenders of our ideals. Because the survival of our American idealism means that the memories of our fallen heroes live on.

On Memorial Day in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge said that “patriotism was easy to understand. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country.” He also knew that patriotism was more than just flag waving and wreath-laying. Patriotism means rolling up your sleeves and making your community and your country a better place to live. Today we pay tribute to those who make sacrifices in the name of patriotism, because not all sacrifices are honored with a ribbon on the chest or the namesake of a Navy ship. Our great American society was built on the shoulders of patriots. I encourage all of you to be patriots. Look out for our society and each other. Honor those who sacrificed to build this community, so that our hometowns and children will always be safe and beautiful.

As Lise Hand once said, “That’s what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end.”

For those we lament losing and revere today, their lives were not lost in vain.  There is an eternal hope that rests within us for a greater world, a peaceful world, a free world.  With bowed heads, we thank those we lost.  We thank their families.  And as we continue to mourn, we will always remember.

Happy Memorial Day.