By Chief of Staff of the Army Peter SchoomakerSeptember 18, 2006
Secretary Marsh, thank you very much.Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to join you today to be part of your Memorial Day ceremony.Just down the road from here, the Civil War "Battle of Ball's Bluff" was fought in October 1861. One of those wounded there was a young 20 year old who was to become a famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Years later, talking to fellow veterans, Holmes talked of their shared experience of war. "We felt," he noted, "and we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth, our hearts were touched with fire."Let me tell you that it is truly an honor to be here today with so many veterans whose hearts were touched with that fire and who continue to feel the passion of life.When asked why people still kept up Memorial Day. Holmes responded that "it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith."The enthusiasm of which he spoke was not a zeal for war, but rather a desire to serve. Nor was he alluding in this case to religious faith. Faith, he noted, is a willingness "to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out."Today we continue to honor this enthusiasm and faith, and do so while the country is engaged in this long struggle, not just the battle in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in numerous spots around the globe.In fact, like those in generations past who have worn the American uniform, today's Soldiers are imbued with what we call the Warrior Ethos. They are motivated by an unwavering belief that they will be victorious on the field of battle, and in the long war because the Nation requires nothing less. Our young men and women in uniform symbolize the nobility of selfless service.Of course, Memorial Day is not focused on the living. Rather, it is dedicated to those who, as President Lincoln so eloquently reminded us, have given their "last full measure of devotion."While it is often said that Soldiers fight not for some high ideal or geopolitical objective, but rather for their buddies, those who have died have clearly done so for an ideal enshrined in the Constitution. It is an ideal each swore to support and defend. It is an ideal to which each promised to bear true faith and allegiance. It is an ideal each thought worth defending.In fact, by raising their right hand and voluntarily taking the oath of military service, with its obligations and attendant risks they clearly epitomize the "enthusiasm and faith" of which Justice Holmes spoke.On occasions like Memorial Day there may be a tendency to cite the number of dead or catalog them by war or conflict, branch of service, home state, or other attribute. It is too easy, much too easy, to forget that their individual characteristics and selfless service to country defy easy categorization.They were brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents, and friends. They were brothers and sisters-in-arms and they are our heroes, forever frozen in time, in our memories, forever young.To the families and friends of the fallen, we know that words are seldom sufficient comfort. Although emptiness will linger, we are grateful for the time we had with them and celebrate who they were and how they lived their lives. And perhaps most significantly, we must never forget that their lives were lost in struggles dedicated to the eternal truth of freedom and the human spirit. Our country was founded on that spirit and Americans have nurtured it through every war we've fought.Just before the Battle of Bull Run, a young Major Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife, his "very dear Sarah," that he had "no misgivings about or lack of confidence in the cause in which I'm engaged. I know how strongly American civilization now leans upon our triumph, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of America's Revolution."Sullivan Ballou would die only days later, and yet today we know his sacrifice, like the sacrifices of all those from all wars that we honor on this Memorial Day, was not in vain.Let me finish with a few words about the living.While Americans observe this important holiday and hopefully reflect on the sacrifice and spirit of those who have fought and died in their name, Soldiers, alongside Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen, continue to fight the good fight on far-flung battlefields.While they may briefly pause to remember fallen comrades, they know they cannot rest,. cannot lose focus, cannot forget that the ideals for which others have died, are still worth fighting for.And when this year's Memorial Day passes, not to be commemorated again until next year, those still in uniform will continue to "solemnly reaffirm" the "enthusiasm and faith" of their fallen comrades day in and day out.America can be rightly proud.Thank you and God Bless America.