11 November 2000
As many of you may know, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and has its roots with the ending of World War 1. In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, after four years of bitter war, an armistice was signed and the "war to end all wars" was over.
But the lasting peace envisioned by our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers was short-lived, and in the 82 years since the trenches were abandoned on the battlefields of Europe, the United States has been engaged in four more wars and numerous conflicts.
As we commemorate Veterans Day, we gratefully recognize the hardships and sacrifices made by the millions of men and women who have served our great country in wartime and in peacetime. Today we pay tribute to our veterans, whose patriotism has contributed so much to the cause of world peace and the preservation of our American way of life. They have faced the perils 'Is of an uncertain world with the certainty that they may be called upon to risk their lives for an ideal they held so dear. And that ideal is what we know as freedom. Those who have seen the dead and wounded, the mud and the misery, the suffering and the sacrifice of war, and those who have given their loved ones in mortal conflict, know full well that "freedom is not free."
Today, as many of us question those considered heroes by our youth, we know that within our American society there is a group of heroes, selfless men and women, who gave in wartime and peacetime, so we may enjoy the freedom that we live each day. Those men and women are our veterans.
Our World War 11 veterans are all part of a generation from which we take inspiration. They won the war, they planned for peace, and they led our country through the second half of the 20th Century. Without their subordination to the common good, our world would be radically different today.
For those in World War II, innocent years of love and adventure were substituted with years of fighting throughout North Africa, Europe and the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific. They returned home after a World War and began where their lives had ended years before. "As they now reach the twilight of their adventurous and productive lives, they remain for the most part, exceptionally modest," as Tom Brokaw wrote in his book, "The Greatest Generation." "They have so many stories to tell, stories that in many cases they have never told before, because in a deep sense they did not think that what they were doing was that special, because everyone else was doing it."
Mr. Brokaw's insight has reminded me of a story about a Navy Corpsman, or medic in Army terms, by the name of John Bradley. I believe he epitomizes the great contribution and modesty of our American veterans. John Bradley was one of the six flag raisers atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima during World War 11. He was not only a flag raiser, forever immortalized by the world-renowned picture taken by Joe Rosenthal, but he was also a hero in his own right. He was awarded the Navy Cross - our nation's second highest award for heroism - for risking his life to save a United States Marine. His son James Bradley writes an unforgettable clu-onicle of the legacy of the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in his book titled "Flags of Our Fathers." Perhaps the greatest tribute to his father was a description of his Dad's reluctance to speak of the flag raising. In fact, there was never a picture of the famous flag-raising to be found in the Bradley home. If asked about the action atop Mount Suribachi by his son, John Bradley's response was always short and simple and he would quickly change the subject. It was only after John Bradley's death in 1994 that his family found closed cardboard boxes in a dark office closet with any memorabilia about the war at all. You see, John Bradley's response to his young son's interest in his belief that his Dad was a hero was merely, "The real heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who did not come back." Yes, John Bradley is an ideal example of the nature of our veterans from each generation. Selfless and modest men and women who have understood the price of freedom and whose respect for those who made the ultimate sacrifice far exceeds any consideration they may have had of their own contributions.
As we take inspiration from the achievements of those veterans who participated in the Second World War, what about the contribution of those who fought in the Korean War - The Forgotten War. I had the privilege in September to participate in Korean War commemorative events at Pusan and Inchon, Korea, as this is the 50 anniversary of that conflict. How many of us are aware that the North Korean attack into South Korea was the first major test of communism against democracy following World War 11. If the efforts of our veterans had failed, how different would our world have been over the past fifty years.
Did you know that America was significantly downsizing its Armed Forces following the end of World War 11 and it was a minimally trained American occupation force in Japan that was initially thrown into battle to blunt the attack of determined and overwhelmingly superior communist North Korean forces. Brave young Americans fought and died to preserve freedom in South Korea. They fought a stand-or-die defense, against overwhelming odds, within a small enclave of land in the southeast part of Korea called the Pusan perimeter. This was done to buy time for reinforcements to arrive and for training to be conducted. They held their position and subsequently conducted a breakout in conjunction with a daring amphibious landing at Inchon that resulted in the disruption of the enemy rear, led to the liberation of Seoul and the ultimate expulsion of North Korean forces from South Korea. This war was waged for nearly three years by brave men and women who did not hesitate to answer the call of our country to defend the freedom of the people of South Korea and, in so doing, announced to the tyrants of the world that freedom was still worth fighting for.
And then we have the Vietnam War. A war that again found America's treasure - its young men - fighting in a distant land in the name of freedom. Brave men and women, who again answered the call of our country to fight for an ideal. A war that became filled with controversy - controversy at home - but there was no room for controversy for those brave Americans in the midst of fighting in the rice paddies and the countryside of South Vietnam. We paid dearly in the name of freedom with 58,000 American lives - brave Americans who were willing to risk and sacrifice their lives in the name of freedom. Regardless of the controversy of that war, the individual soldier, sailor, airman and Marine served from a sense of duty to this country. To this day, nearly 30 years later, it has been the ties amongst the individual service members and their loyalty to their units and each other that keeps the memory of their service to our country alive.
In my previous assignment, as the Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, I had the unique opportunity to visit with many of the veterans groups who would hold reunions at the Depot. Veteran groups would visit Parris Island because it is where hundreds of thousands of Marines have completed recruit training and marched across the parade deck to serve in our wartime and peacetime Marine Corps. One particular unit, the I" Battalion, gth Marine Regiment known as the "Walking Dead" due to the large number of casualties during the Vietnam War characterizes the spirit of all veterans. Each year they hold a national gathering, and members of the unit from all over the country attend. I noted the friendships between unit members and their families which had lasted throughout the years and the camaraderie and sheer pleasure of each other's company they enjoyed. I was especially moved when the socializing ceased and a wooden ammunition box was carried forward that contained the names of their six hundred and three fallen comrades who had made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. Heartfelt comments were made in their memory. Marines/fellow Americans that will never be forgotten as long as any of their fellow Marines live. The solemnity in that room, the emotion of that moment, the consoling of sobbing men by each other, spoke to their service to our country and their love of each other. This is the spirit and undying loyalty of our American veteran.
And then the Gulf War where thousands upon thousands of US servicemen and women were deployed to Southwest Asia and thousands more at bases throughout the world supporting the effort to again fight tyranny and to restore freedom. A war titled "The I 00 Hour War" yet regardless of its duration, its uncertainty at the outset caused every US service person to experience the same anxiety and coming to peace with one's self and one's God that has confronted every other serviceman in every other generation.
And we have had many other conflicts within the past years. Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and now the USS Cole, all have challenged the fortitude and commitment of the American serviceman and woman and their determination to uphold freedom and to preserve our American way of life.
Within each generation, you can see that we have had young, inexperienced Americans who became tough and capable soldiers, airmen, sailors, coastguardsmen and Marines, They became veterans. This is our day to honor all veterans - to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and to pay tribute to those who have served honorably in peacetime and wartime and contributed so much to the freedom we and others enjoy throughout the world today. They are all brave men and women, who have been willing to selflessly serve their country in the name of freedom.
As I close my remarks today, I am reminded of our national anthem. The verses that we hear many times in a lifetime, yet pass idly by without great meaning. The last verse strikes me as capturing the spirit of Veterans Day and the unequaled contributions our veterans, throughout each generation, have made to this great country of ours. To our veterans, this verse is a tribute to you. "Oh say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, over the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
Ladies and gentlemen, America has truly remained the land of the free, because it is the home of the brave ... our veterans!
BGen James R. Battaglini
Deputy Commanding General
I Marine Expeditionary Force
Camp Pendleton CA 92055-5300