Fort Rucker honored the nation's veterans, both past and present, at its Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 8 at Veterans Park.

Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, spoke at the ceremony about the significance of Veterans Day.

"Today we pay tribute to our great veterans who've served honorably across all of our components: the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard -- the brave men and women who through tremendous acts of courage and selfless service are the ones who've paid the price for the freedoms that we hold dear," he said. "When the nation called, they answered that call to go wherever and whenever they were needed. And unlike Memorial Day, which focuses on the fallen, Veterans Day is a day to pay tribute to all American veterans, living or dead, who've served our country honorably."
He also took note of those in the audience and thanked them for all that they do.

"As I look out across the audience today, I am reminded once again of the great support systems our Soldiers enjoy here at Fort Rucker, and so many people play a part in that," Francis said. "We're surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and experience in our combat-seasoned veterans, many of which are represented here today, with our outstanding Army family members and your great support that keeps us all strong, and with such deeply patriotic neighbors that we have here in the Wiregrass communities that make this home of Army Aviation truly feel like home.

"We just can't say it enough -- we couldn't do what we do without all of you," he added.

Francis then spoke about Alabama veteran Ray Lambert, an Army medic in North Africa, Sicily and the beaches of Normandy.

"Then-Staff Sgt. Ray Lambert's medical unit was part of the first assault wave on Omaha Beach, where enemy troops were particularly well-armed and fortified," Francis said. "Our servicemembers faced daunting odds. Elements coming in by air had landed far from their targets, naval gun fire had ended, amphibious tanks were sinking before they made it to land, landing craft were engulfed by high waves -- drowning many personnel -- and Soldiers had to make their way through chest-deep water carrying as much as 90 pounds of ammunition and equipment."

When they made it to shore, the Soldiers met with heavy enemy machine gun, mortar and artillery fire, he added. "Within the first few minutes of that wave, an estimated 90-percent of the servicemembers were killed or wounded, and within hours casualties mounted into the thousands.

"Lambert was shot twice that morning, but that didn't stop him," Francis said. "Thanks to his courage, skill and presence of mind, he rescued many from drowning, shielded wounded men behind the nearest steel barrier, or tended to their wounds and administered morphine shots -- he was determined to save as many lives as possible."

As he was working to free another Soldier trapped behind barbwire, Lambert became pinned under the ramp of a Higgins boat and suffered a broken back, the general added. "In those moments, Lambert's only concern was about another soldier he was trying to save. Looking over at a nearby Soldier who needed his help, he recalled saying, 'God, please give me the chance to save just one more man.'

"The boat ramp suddenly lifted, and despite a broken back he was able to rescue the other Soldier and make his way to shore before he lost consciousness himself," Francis said. "Fortunately, he made it back home alive. A truly remarkable Soldier, he was among the D-Day veterans who returned to the beaches of Normandy just a few months ago for the D-Day anniversary commemoration there."

He then spoke of how the veterans of yesterday and today live out the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage every day. "Soldiers who, like Lambert, have a strong sense of their duty and put the needs of others before their own, risking their own safety to save their fellow Soldiers.

"Soldiers live by the Army values and they do not leave those values behind when they transition into civilian life," he added. "As a Soldier for life, they continue to serve our communities and inspire future generations. And many of you here today are examples of that Soldier for Life concept."

He asked everyone to reflect on the examples of selfless service from the Greatest Generation.

"It's interesting to note that when Lambert was asked in an interview whether as he sees himself as a hero, his answer was, 'I'm not a hero, I'm a veteran.' A humble veteran, who, along with so many others that day, changed the world.

"Our great veterans are true patriots who make us strong and resilient as a nation from as far back as the Minutemen who won our independence to the brave warriors of today," Francis added. "They are the bedrock of our very identity as a nation, and we must be ever-mindful in every generation that our precious freedom is not free and we owe all of our great veterans an enormous debt of gratitude today and every day. So, to all of our veterans here today, we thank you and we honor you -- your selfless service has impacted the lives of all of us and we will continue to do so for generations to come."