Memorial Day

Memorial Day
Memorial Day

Thank you.  It’s an honor and privilege to be with you here today.  Today we recognize Marshallese Traditional Leaders, Senators Ricklon and Kabua, the Sam Family, Mr. Lanny Kabua, Acting Mayor Card Subille, COL Sadler and Monica, and all those serving and their families.

Command SGT Maj and Mrs Gooden, Michael Woundi of the American Legion, Mrs Cynthia and Mr. Rineja, KCA, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you all for coming.

Our purpose today is to recognize and remember those who are not here, and yet are with us in spirit.  SGT Solomon Sam and the loved ones all of you bring to mind today.  The memorials that dot these islands, from the plaque off the runway, for the nurses and crew, to the marker on Roi Namur, represent lives lost that we remember and honor.  We remember heroes like Louis Zamperini, and offer our final salute.  And we are thankful that we can mark this beautiful day together, in a country at peace.

When I drive down the street with the American flag flying, Marshallese kids will often salute.  Not surprising that military culture is well understood in a community that joins the U.S. military at a higher rate than any U.S. state.

I’m sure those kids have no idea that one of the most indelible photographs is the Image of John John saluting President John F. Kennedy, as the horse drawn carriage passed with the casket bearing his father in Washington.

Children understand that there is a lot of meaning inherent in a salute.

The origin of the salute is not entirely clear.  Throughout history the right hand, the weapon hand, has been raised as a greeting of friendship.  Courtesy required that the inferior offer the gesture first.  The U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Historian says that according to some legends medieval knights raised their visors to reveal their identity.  Again, a courtesy shown a superior.  At one time, the salute was rendered by lowering the saber with one hand and touching the visor with another.  A bow often accompanied the gesture.  As late as the American Revolution, British soldiers removed their headgear in the presence of more senior officers.  Gradually it has become conventionalized to the modern salute.

The Army Corps Historian concludes “Whatever the actual origin of today’s hand salute, clearly in the tradition of the US Army, it has always been used to indicate a sign of RESPECT, further recognition that in the profession of arms, military courtesy is both a right and a responsibility of every soldier.

The best I could offer would be a New York City part-time Auxiliary Policeman salute, so I think I will leave it to the professionals… and the kids.

Kwajalein is a place where stories of bravery of Marshallese Scouts are passed down from generation to generation. It’s a place where American hero Louis Zamperini spent time and survived unbroken.  It is a place that ensures global security.  And it’s a place where Medals of Honor were accorded for bravery.

I am happy to say that President Obama also accorded Medals of Honor this month to two deserving Americans who fought in WWI.  Yes, nearly a century ago.  Pvt William Henry Johnson of the 369th Infantry Regiment’s “Harlem Hellfighters” and SGT William Shemin of the 4th Infantry Division will be accorded the medals.  Johnson fought off a German raiding party, using a rifle that jammed, and a bowie knife, and Shemin, left his trench to brave machine gun fire and rescue wounded comrades.  They were not accorded the medals then due to discrimination, but it shows that the phrase, “Gone but not forgotten” applies today.  Anyone who lost someone serving carries that memory and legacy, and finds a part of their own life, dedicated to those who were lost.

For many Americans, today is the day the local swimming pool opens, or it’s a big shopping day, but we’re lucky.  We are lucky we get to pause even briefly, not just on a special day, but in a special place and among friends who make this day memorable.  And who remind us that the historic sacrifices and losses for freedom will no doubt be required of the future.   We take strength from those we remember today.

I know there are graduates here today.  And graduates have probably heard a lot of good advice lately.  I’ll add: follow your passion is step one.  No doubt.  Do what you love.  For me, it was the love of foreign cultures and especially new adventures that drew me to diplomacy.

But this day reminds us that step two is learning to love something bigger than yourself.  For you, young people, are surrounded by great examples.  Anyone in uniform, your teachers and parents all know a lot about service.  All those who died in service did so dedicating and sacrificing their lives to something bigger.  Democracy.  Freedom.  Let’s carry on their legacy and serve with as much vigor and distinction as we can.  Kommol!  Thank you!