By SMA Kenneth PrestonOctober 14, 2006
Distinguished leaders, Soldiers of the 96th Infantry Division especially those Soldiers of our Greatest Generation here with us today, family and friends; welcome to your 48th reunion tour. For 48 years, you have been getting together to celebrate a brotherhood that was born more than 60 years ago.
This brotherhood, this bonding between Soldiers continues today with all our units. This year we celebrated our Army's 230th Birthday. For 230 years, young Americans have heard and chosen to defend the call of freedom.
These Americans came from all walks of life, from many different cultures and backgrounds, and all were willing to give of themselves to serve the people of the United States.
Today, more than 260 thousand Soldiers are serving around the world in more than 120 countries. Many of them stand against radical insurgents on the streets of Baghdad, search and destroy Al Qaeda remnants in the mountains of Afghanistan and stand on Freedom's Frontier in Korea.
Like our World War II veterans, the Greatest Generation, today's Soldiers are part of the Next Greatest Generation.
Although 60 years separate today's young Soldiers from the young men who fought in the pacific and in Europe, the camaraderie, courage and love of country are still the same. Today as then, America's Soldiers are warriors and members of a team. They serve the people of the United States and live the Army values.
For 48 years you've come together to share the stories of courage and sacrifice. Your contributions ensured the safety and security of our world for the last 60 years.
Today, our young men and women must once again heed the call to duty. They must finish a fight we didn't start. A war waged on us by radical extremists willing to destroy our very way of life.
Just as it was for the Greatest Generation, our Soldiers are the centerpiece of our formation. They are the key to our success in every mission we execute. They are highly trained and motivated and ready to take the fight to the enemy. In the streets of Baghdad, the mountains of Afghanistan and locations around the world, our Soldiers are helping to stand-up model democratic societies which will ensure the safety and security of our world for the next 60 years and beyond.
As we move forward in the war on terrorism, we look back to the members of the greatest generation, and the men of the 96th Infantry Division for inspiration and role models.
Soldiers like rifleman PFC Clarence Craft of Company G, 382nd Infantry Bde. During an operation on Hen Hill in Okinawa on the 31 May, 1945, PFC Craft, distinguished himself when he was dispatched with a five-man team in advance of a planned attack. PFC Craft and his team were pinned down with enemy machine-gun fire. Always placing the mission first, he launched a remarkable 1-man attack by advancing up the hill killing enemy soldiers with deadly accuracy. Never accepting defeat, he weakened the enemy line enough to relieve pressure on his company, allowing his unit to continue their attack. Never quitting, he moved from a secure position to attack the main enemy trench. Throwing grenades and accurate weapons fire caused the enemy to panic and flee. Never leaving a fallen comrade, he hurried to ensure his wounded comrades were provided first aid once the attack was complete. PFC Clarence Craft lived the Soldiers Creed and the Warrior Ethos. He was but one of the many heroes of this fabled unit. For his actions that day, PFC Craft was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Today's Soldiers are continuing in that tradition of honor and sacrifice. This summer I had the opportunity to participate in ceremonies honoring Sergeant First Class Paul Smith. Sergeant Smith was a platoon sergeant with the 11th Engineer Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On 4 April 2003, Sergeant First Class Smith's unit was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow Soldiers, he quickly organized defensive positions and personally manned a .50 caliber machine gun on a disabled armored personnel carrier. He killed more than 50 enemy soldiers and held back the attack allowing his Soldiers to safely withdraw numerous wounded Soldiers. During the fight, Sergeant Smith was mortally wounded, but not before saving over 100 of his men. For his actions that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was the first Soldier in the Global War on Terror to receive the Medal of Honor.
Last year we dedicated the World War II memorial here in Washington D.C. to honor the courage of our veterans and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy. Some of those who paid such a dear price are represented by the families and brothers they left behind who are with us here today.
Every American generation has its heroes, this one is no different. The men of the 96th Infantry Division are what our country is all about. You passed on the legacy for all of us who followed to emulate.
On behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter J. Schoomaker, our Secretary of the Army, the Honorable Dr. Francis J. Harvey and the hundreds of thousands of Soldiers you have inspired by your courage, loyalty, sacrifice and duty we say thank you. Our country owes you a debt of gratitude we can only repay by preserving the freedoms you afforded us some 60 years ago. God bless you, your families, and the United States of America. Hooah.