June 20, 2010- "Sons and Daughters in Touch" Father's Day Memorial
June 28, 2010
Today is Father's Day - a day set aside more than 40 years ago by [President] Lyndon Johnson to remind us all that we need to be thankful for what our father s do for us, and to give us a day to honor them. It's a day that has brought us all here to this wall, bound together by a common experience - the loss of our fathers in Vietnam.
In my travels, I come across all kinds of words that seek to make sense out of the loss of war. There's a particular one from a memorial to British troops in World War Two in Burma that says, "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today."
And today's a day to remember and be thankful for our fathers, who gave themselves so that our futures might be bright. They were ordinary men who did extraordinary things for this country, and for the values and ideals for which it stands.
Each name on the wall behind me, each picture you're holding in your hands, tells a story of personal courage, selfless service and sacrifice. And I will tell you a story of one of those names on panel nine west - the story of my father, Major General George Casey.
My dad was killed in 1970 when his helicopter crashed in route to Cam Ranh Bay to visit some of his wounded troopers after a very successful operation into Cambodia that summer. He was 48. I was 21. My youngest sister was 12. It was then and it still is important to me that his service and his sacrifice are both recognized and not forgotten.
And there were times back then when I wasn't sure whether that was true. But even then back in 1970, there were glimmers of hope. And I want to share with you the commentary from the ABC evening news on the ninth of July, 1970. It was done by Frank Reynolds. Here's what Frank said:"It seems fair to say that professional Soldiers are not at the top of the list of the most admired men in America these days. For many people, just to hear the words, 'the General is in the Pentagon' or 'the General is in Vietnam,' is to think of heartless types, concerned only with personal glories, caring nothing about the men they commit to battle. Perhaps that was not an entirely inaccurate image of high commands in past wars, but it is completely wrong in the present one.
In the last two months, both the United States and the South Vietnamese have lost general officers who were wholly devoted to their profession and to their troops. General Nguyen Viet Thanh of the South Vietnamese Army was killed in a helicopter crash just a few days after the Cambodian operation began. South Vietnamese generals are generally thought of as a bunch of corrupt smugglers or black market operators. Unfortunately, some have fit that description. But there are exceptions. After General Thanh died, it was discovered that his entire estate consisted of a few sets of fatigues, one dress uniform, one wife and 7 children - no villa, no Swiss bank account, not even a motor bike.
General George Casey, the commander of the 1st Air Calvary Division who is now missing in Vietnam, was one of those men who had Soldier written all over him. There was no trace of the martinet in him. He was a man for whom the responsibilities of high command were much more important than the privilege. He accepted all of the first; he abused none of the second.
General Casey and General Thanh knew war and hated it, perhaps more than the rest of us. They were splendid examples of military men who were not really militaristic. We don't give them much credit these days as some of us shout and all of us long for 'peace now,' but it is still an imperfect world. And the time will certainly come when not only will the George Casey's of the world be needed, they might even be appreciated."
And I know that each one of you has a similar story that reminds you of your dads. And I must tell you, I believe that this monument has had a lot to do with ensuring our fathers' sacrifices would be both remembered and appreciated. Because I believe this monument has changed the way the American people think about the Vietnam War.
And I think that by now most Americans recognize that we got it wrong back then so many years ago, and not acknowledging the courage, the valor and the commitment of the men and women of our armed forces who fought an unpopular war. And I also think that the American people are resolved to see that that does not happen again.
Now I can understand why this wall has had such an effect, because I remember the first time I came here. I parked over there on Constitution Avenue and I was walking across the grass. And I kept thinking to myself 'where is it' I should be able to see it by now.' And then I turned that corner.
My wife was with me, and as we walked down to find my dad's name, I couldn't speak. And Sheila kept saying 'what do you think, what do you feel'' And I just couldn't talk. We spent some time there, and I didn't speak until we got back to the car. And when I got back to the car I said something profound like, 'wow, that was the most impressive thing I've ever seen in my life.' I know that wasn't profound, but Shelia does tell me I have difficulty expressing my feelings.
But I think that's the grip that this monument has had, and it's made a huge difference, because in addition to the fathers among the 58,000 names inscribed on this memorial, we should also take a moment today to remember the more than one million Americans who died serving this nation throughout our 234-year history, as well as the families they left behind. They're all American heroes. And it's for us to ensure that their sacrifices aren't forgotten.
It's monuments like this one and organizations like "Sons and Daughters in Touch" that keep memories alive and keep fresh in our minds the knowledge that long after we lose our fathers and mothers in the throes of wars, families endure. They should have a chance to thrive, to have that better tomorrow. So monuments like this one and the Korean War memorial and the World War Two memorial, and the thousands of local memorials around the country honoring our fallen fathers and mothers are vitally important. As hard and all-consuming as war is, we cannot forget its aftermath - the broken bodies, the broken spirits and the broken families that require the continued attention of a grateful nation.
As a country, we must remain committed to working diligently to provide our wounded warriors and our survivors our full support. Because behind every fallen comrade is a family that remains an important part of the community. And that's as true today as it has been since 1776. In fact, just as "Sons and Daughters in Touch" represents those who lost a parent in Vietnam, our ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put more than 3,800 children without a parent.
So today, on Father's Day, let's remember, and let's celebrate our fathers, and accept the thanks of a grateful nation. May God bless all of you and God bless our fallen comrades. And may God continue to bless the armed forces of the United States and all of you. Thank you very much.