By Ian GrahamMay 27, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, May 27, 2008) -- Sunshine Monday morning made the white stone of Arlington National Cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater gleam as President George W. Bush paid tribute to those that have given their lives to protect their country.
The president, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates honored the fallen on Memorial Day in an amphitheater overflowing with veterans, service members and Families, congressmen and administration officials.
"In a world where freedom is constantly under attack and in a world where our security is challenged, the joys of liberty are often purchased by the sacrifices of those who serve a cause greater than themselves," Bush said.
Mullen said that society owes the fallen warriors more than can ever be repaid.
"Every headstone on these rolling hills represents a promise - a commitment" beyond what most can understand, he said. "Let us celebrate their deeds in how we live and earn what they've given to us."
Gates recognized the survivors of combat as well, reminding the audience that many times veterans carry unseen wounds and scars from battle.
"We owe so much to those who passed through the perils of combat and lived," he said, "as well as to those who did not."
Bush told the stories of Army Spc. Ronald Tucker of Fountain, Colo., and a pair of Navy SEALS, Nathan Hardy of Durham, N.H., and Michael Koch of State College, Pa.
Tucker, known for having "an infectious smile and a prankster's sense of humor," and who Bush described as a "devoted Soldier and dutiful son who called his mother every day from Iraq," worked with his unit to build a soccer field for Iraqi children less than a month ago.
"As he drove back to his base," Bush said, "an enemy bomb robbed him of his life."
Hardy and Koch "developed the unique bond of brotherhood that comes from trusting another with your life" after several missions together in the SEALS. They made a tradition of wearing an American flag against their chests underneath their uniform before battle.
"These two friends spent their last few moments on Earth together, doing what they loved most - defending America," Bush said. The two were killed in an ambush in Iraq. "Today, Nathan Hardy and Mike Koch lay at rest next to each other right here on the grounds of Arlington."
The president continued, lauding the courage of America's military, the men and women who "perform extraordinary acts of heroism every single day" and don't waver in the face of danger.
"Today, here in Washington and across our country, we pay tribute to those who have fallen - a tribute never equal to the debt they are owed," he said. "We will forever honor their memories ... we offer a solemn pledge to persevere and to provide the security for our citizens and secure the peace for which they fought."
(Ian Graham writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)