Arlington, Virginia —
GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: (In progress) – a military parent himself. One of his poems, entitled “Decoration Day,” speaks to the experience of any family that has sent a son or daughter off to war. While relieved that his own son Charlie returned safely from the Civil War, Longfellow was moved by the fact that many, many more did not.
In his closing lines, Longfellow frames an eternal relationship between fallen service members and the nation that they protect. He says, “Your silent tents of green / We deck with fragrant flowers; / Yours has the suffering been, / The memory shall be ours.”
A hundred and thirty years after writing those words, Longfellow still has it right. The memory is ours. On Memorial Day we honor that memory in heartfelt ceremonies across this land. The pageantry is a manifestation of the sacred bond of trust between the military family and our larger American family. But what really counts is how we nurture that bond with those still here and how we turn that memory into action.
Today we stand behind families that will never be whole again. But we must continue to stand with them every day. Supporting them in the ways they need it most, particularly as they transition back into their home communities, shows that we do not just think of them but that we really do remember. And those communities have the most important role to play in this effort.
Every national-level department and every agency represented here today is committed to making education, medical care and employment opportunities accessible to the military family. But the VA can’t drop the kids off at soccer, and the DOD can’t help you study for your final college exam. Nobody looks out for you like friends, your neighbors or your family.
And when you think about it like that, it’s no surprise that Memorial Day began at the community level as a local observance years before it was recognized nationally. So it starts with us. Preserving the bonds of trust is something that demands our constant attention and something we’re just going to have to keep delivering. And we will, because the memory is ours, all of ours. We will remember.
May God bless our fallen, our missing and their families. And may God bless America. Thank you. (Applause.)