Memorial Day 2011

Their names were George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert Sullivan—brothers all under the age of 27 years old. The Sullivan brothers left their sister and parents behind in January 1942 to enlist in the Navy during World War II under the condition that they would not be separated. They wrote: “We will make a team that can’t be beat.” The Navy complied and they all were assigned to the doomed vessel USS Juneau. In November, the Juneau was wiped out by the Japanese.  All five of the Sullivan brothers perished in the attack leaving behind what was left of their family. There are thousands of heart-wrenching stories of Americans lost during wars throughout our history and the families they leave behind. Warriors go off to war and unfortunately, not all of them return. Many of the fallen gave up their youth so we could have a free future. We must remember these American heroes today and every day.  

For 143 years, on the last Monday of May, Americans across our country have celebrated Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a time for Americans to pause from our daily lives to remember and honor the patriots that have died protecting our freedom. Today we also pray for those who are still serving our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. The men and women that wear the uniform of the United States military are truly the finest in the world.

Memorial Day was first observed on a large scale three years after the end of the War Between the States in 1868, known then as Decoration Day.  It was a day to decorate the graves of more than 600,000 men who died in that conflict with flowers and American flags. By 1971, Congress declared the last Monday in May as Memorial Day; a national holiday to honor those who died in all American wars.

In our nation’s capitol there are monuments to the American Warriors of our country’s history. There is a massive cemetery on the shores of Normandy, France where more than 9,000 D-Day heroes are buried from one of our history’s fiercest and most costly victories. All of these tributes are memorials to our troops that have always answered the call to serve their country. 

Today America faces a new enemy and fights a different kind of war. Our military still answers the call. It has been nearly ten years since September 11, 2001 when our world was changed forever. Since September 11th, American troops have been involved in two wars in the Middle East, including the longest war in American history in Afghanistan. We have lost over 6,000 men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, 35 brave warriors from Texas’ 2nd Congressional District area have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. My staff and I honor their memory every single day. We have put each of their photos on a Wall of Honor in all of my offices. Their photos serve as a constant reminder of their sacrifices to each of us.

During my time in Congress I have had the privilege to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan several times. Our military are truly the finest in the world. They operate in the hot and dusty deserts and the rough and rugged mountains of Afghanistan where the summer temperatures reach almost 120 degrees in the parched desert landscape. They track down terrorists under the worst possible conditions, but no matter what hole-or mansion-these cowards try to hide in, our military are able to hunt them down and to keep America safe. Even in the “desert of the sun and the valley of the gun,” our troops are not deterred.  These natural obstacles do not stop the best trained and most capable military in the history of the world.   Our brave men and women in uniform are unequaled anywhere in the world.  They are an all volunteer force, educated, tenacious, and motivated.  They bleed red, white and blue. 

So today whether you are at a backyard bar-b-que or with your family at the beach, take time to pause and think what today is really about. Thank a soldier, a marine and an airman. And thank their families for their sacrifices as well. Think of the Sullivans and the thousands of other families who have lost their loved ones. Remember the fallen, celebrate those who have served and pray for the safe return of those who are still fighting. It is important to show our appreciation not just today, but every day. Always remember the heroes who have protected our freedom in the past and continue to protect it for the future.

And that’s just the way it is.