Nov. 5, 2010 - Fort Hood Remembrance Ceremony
December 1, 2010
Thank you. And thank you all for coming out here today and helping us reflect on the events of a year ago and to remember our fallen comrades.
I'd like to recognize just a few of our distinguished guests - Congressman John Carter - congratulations on the recent election here - and thank you for all that you and the members of Congress do to support the men and women of our armed forces (pause for applause) - my boss, Secretary of the Army John McHugh, John, thank you - great to have you here - thank you for your leadership (pauses for applause).
As I look out across here, I see many community leaders from across central Texas and I would like to thank you for your presence and thank you for what you've done over the last year to put your arms around the men and women of Fort Hood and the families to help us bring ourselves back-thank you very much (pauses for applause).
Also just want to recognize Jill Cone and Will Grimsley for the great leadership that they provided here at Hood over the last year-thank you (pauses for applause).
And finally, probably, and most importantly, the families and friends of our 13 fallen comrades - more than 130 of them have come from all over the United States to be here today - and thank you very much for being with us (pauses for applause).
Almost a year ago on a day very much like today, behind a row of 13 helmets on down - turned rifles and individual memorials with dog tags, boots, and photographs-and under a huge American flag - we struggled as a Nation, as an Army, and as a community to come to grips with a great tragedy. I described the violence that led to the deaths of 13 Soldiers as a 'kick in the gut,' and it was. We mourned that day with 19 children, spouses, parents, and untold loved ones that they left behind. Who could forget Sergeant Hartley's moving rendition of Amazing Grace, or the Sergeant Major's final roll call'
President Obama spoke movingly about each of the Fallen -- men and women from across our Army ranging in age from 19 to 62. There were newlyweds, single moms, loving parents. They were from main street USA, and they were immigrants. They were active duty Soldiers, reservists, and retirees, combat veterans, and first-time deployers.
Among the fallen was Capt. John Gaffaney who lost his life heroically attempting to save others by subduing the gunman. This morning, we posthumously awarded the Soldier's Medal to his widow Christine for his actions.
As different as they were as individuals, these 13 fallen heroes were bound together by a spirit of service and a desire to be a part of something greater than themselves. They represent what is best about America and they represent what is best about our Army.
The president also spoke to the families of the fallen - assuring them that "their loved ones would endure through the life of our nation. That their memory would be honored, and in the places they lived and by the people they touched. That their life's work is our security and the freedom that we all too often take for granted." He said that "every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, and every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - that - is their legacy."
As last year we honored their individual memorials, this morning we unveiled a permanent memorial that honors them together, forever, in granite - as part of that commitment to honor their memory. Fittingly, the memorial is located in a small copse of oak trees-themselves a symbol of strength and courage.
The new memorial bares this quotation, "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory that no one can steal." And while the pain of their loss is still strong a year removed, the memories of their lives and of their service and sacrifice have been a source of strength to those who knew them best.
Over the past year I have seen how our Soldiers and families have been honoring the memories of those we lost that day. I've seen the pledge, never to forget, in the actions of our fellow Soldiers. I've watched members of the 467th Combat Stress Detachment, specialists charged with helping others deal with tragedy, as they coped themselves with the loss of three of their own. I visited the 467th in Afghanistan and I was impressed with their resilience. They were working hard to come to grips with what happened here even as they poured themselves into helping other Soldiers deal with the stresses of combat. They helped others in clinics that they had named after their fallen comrades.
In July, I presented the Army Times Soldier of the Year Award to Staff Sgt. Zackary Filip - a combat medic who has shown uncommon valor on several occasions both on and off the battlefield. That's what he did here last Nov. 5, when he charged into the Soldier Readiness Processing Center unarmed and with complete disregard for his personal safety, to provide medical treatment for the wounded. He played a critical role in saving the lives of numerous Soldiers and civilians, and this morning we recognized Staff SGt. Filip and many others for their heroic actions that day.
And, last month, during another visit to Afghanistan, I had the opportunity to meet with the battalion commander of the 20th Engineer Battalion, Lt. Col. Pete Andrysiak. The 20th lost four Soldiers that day and had 11 more injured. One of those injured, Pfc. Allan Carroll was shot multiple times trying to carry out a wounded buddy, but after three months of physical therapy, he rejoined his unit in Kandahar and became an inspirational leader in the most successful route clearance unit in that region of Afghanistan. The 20th Engineers have a remarkable record of success.
We also can't help but be inspired by the resilience of others who were wounded that day-like 1st Cav. trooper Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler. Shot four times, Patrick has struggled mightily every day so that he could continue to follow his dream of being a Soldier, and - at his side - his fiancAfA, herself a role model of strength and resilience. After a tough year-tomorrow - Pat will lead the half marathon on a specially designed bicycle.
So a year after the tragedy, we gather to honor the fallen and the wounded, to grieve with their families, to recall the valiant efforts of the first responders, and to thank the community for their out-pouring of support. But most importantly, we gather to remember, to remember and honor the lives of Chief Warrant Officer (retired) Mike Cahill, Maj. Libardo Caraveo, Staff Sgt. Justin Decrow, Capt. John Gaffaney, Spc. Frederick Greene, Spc. Jason Hunt, Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger, Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, Pfc. Michael Pearson, Capt. Russell Seager, Pfc. Francheska Velez, Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, and Pfc. Kham Xiong.
It's said that monuments keep memories alive and I think that's true. They also keep fresh in our minds, the knowledge that the Families of the Fallen require the continued attention of a grateful Nation. The names inscribed on that memorial will be a constant reminder to us of that obligation, so thank you all for being with us today to help us remember. We will never forget.