Good Afternoon, and thank you for joining us as we share this distinct honor of recognizing an American Hero. I think Abraham Lincoln's famous words when dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg are equally appropriate to what we do today: (I quote) "But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground" (end quote). As Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing enters the Hall of Heroes . . . this ground truly is hallowed by his actions on that terrible . . . yet victorious day on July 3, 1863.
So my comments will focus on Lieutenant Cushing the Soldier, and the timeless inspiration he provides to all Warriors in our great military. Alonzo Cushing stood at the center of the line, during the Battle that was the turning point of the U.S. Civil War, in the war that was the crucial moment in our Country's history as it fought to save 'the last best hope of earth' . . . a Nation committed to the ideals that all men are created equal.
Lieutenant Cushing's leadership and valor were heroic that day . . . the courage and valor of his actions truly helped "save the Union."
In Summer of 1863, Robert E. Lee invaded the North in an effort to bring the war to its People, to defeat the U.S. Army on its own territory, and to break the already fading will of the Union. He attacked the left flank on July 1, the right flank on July 2, but was unable to break the United States Army. He was convinced that Union Commanders had weakened their center on Cemetery Ridge to reinforce their flanks, and that a determined attack would cut the Army in half, cause panic in its ranks, and that Union Defense would collapse. But on this day, Lee underestimated the strength of the U.S. Army . . . valiantly exemplified by Alonzo Cushing.
The horror of the fighting at the battle of Gettysburg is difficult to adequately describe . . . and essential to understand as we attempt to fully appreciate the magnitude of Lieutenant Cushing's gallantry.
The artillery barrage started early in the morning, but came in earnest around 3:00 P.M. when 150 Confederate guns opened up on the Union Line. Their main target was the artillery on Cemetery Ridge. A Soldier on the Ridge described it like this: "The roar of guns was deafening, the air was soon clouded with smoke, and the shriek and startling crack of exploding shells above, around, and in our midst . . . the driving through the air of fence-rails, posts, and limbs of trees, the groans of dying men, the neighing of frantic and wounded horses, created a scene of absolute horror." (end quote) While other artillery units withdrew from the Ridge, Lieutenant Cushing ordered his two surviving artillery pieces directly up against the wall at the "Bloody Angle."
Every round that Lieutenant Cushing's guns fired . . . counted. Equally important was his leadership, his refusal to quit, rallying the troops around him.
A Union prisoner watched the battle from behind Confederate lines described just how close Pickett's charge came to success: (I quote) "the Confederates broke over the low irregular stone wall with a chorus of yells" and "our men appeared to be giving way before the onset of the second line . . . the cheers of the Confederates made the hills echo . . . in that awful moment I feared our line was hopelessly broken." (end of quote) After Lieutenant Cushing was killed and the Confederates breached the Union line, his men fought like a team possessed . . . hand-to-hand . . . with bayonets, rifle butts, stones, and fists, to hold their ground.
When the Battle was over, the survivors of Lieutenant Cushing's battery counted 600 dead Confederate Soldiers in front of his two cannon. The rebels had breached the line, but did not have enough men to hold their stolen ground and exploit their success. Every round counted and Lieutenant Cushing's valor and the unvanquishable fervor it inspired in his Soldiers . . . truly "saved the Union."
We pay tribute to Alonzo Cushing for his inspiring valor . . . and in doing so, we honor his family. Present today are family members from 13 united states . . . North . . . South . . . East, and West, which is a tribute to the unity across our diverse nation that Alonzo Cushing fought and died for. But perhaps more importantly, we pay homage and honor to Lieutenant Cushing's Soldiers . . . who like American Soldiers for the past 239 years . . . have valiantly defended our Union . . . against incalculable odds . . . defending one another . . . their brethren in Arms . . . like Colonel John Cushing who is today deployed to Afghanistan, and all of our Soldiers who many times over defend our cause and 'save the Union.' Alonzo Cushing's distant cousin, Matthew John Cushing, is a cadet at West Point, preparing to lead in an Army at war. Let this Medal of Honor be a source of strength to Colonel and Cadet Cushing and to all of our Service Members who will preserve this nation, and be a light of freedom to the world . . . today, tomorrow . . . and forward for thousands of tomorrows.
Thank you, God Bless You, and Army Strong!