Excerpts from a speech delivered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
“Memory Day,” April 16, 2001, by Anthony J. Principi, U.S. Secretary
of Veterans Affairs.
... The historian Stephen Ambrose wrote, “A memorial’s message is
not just a remembrance of past sacrifice. It is a reminder to future
generations that the torch of freedom is now theirs to carry; that
the patriotism, the unity and the responsibility of war’s generations
cannot be relegated to stone and mortar merely to remember, but that
these are values to nourish and maintain in each generation.”
The values of those we honor today are the values that have
sustained America throughout our history. The values of duty, honor
These were people who carried the torch of freedom high when they
were called upon to do so.
They accepted the responsibility others shirked, whatever their
own political views. For this, they paid the ultimate price.
Some fell victim to battlefield wounds and injuries that disabled
them for many years before their deaths. Some succumbed to the
psychological illnesses exposure to combat can bring. And some lost
their lives to the environmental hazards of the modern battlefield --
hazards every bit as dangerous as guns or sabers or cannon shells.
I am proud to call these heroes my comrades. Their sacrifice, and
the sacrifices of all Vietnam veterans, must be remembered. Not just
today, or on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but every day.
Some have said their names, too, should be inscribed on the wall
behind us. That they are casualties of the Vietnam War, as surely as
those whose names are found there.
In my opinion, this is an argument of little consequence. For
these men and women already have a larger and greater memorial.
Their monument is here today, in our gathering together free and
unfettered in gratitude for what they have done.
It is in the streets of this city, and every city throughout
America, where we fear no foreign invader. In homes where our
children and grandchildren sleep soundly every night, secure in the
knowledge they are protected and safe.
Their monument is in our churches, our synagogues and our mosques,
where families are free to worship, and to follow their own
It is in our daily newspapers, where reporters are free to write
the truth without fear of reprisal.
And it is on our street corners, on television and radio, and
everywhere Americans use the rights our veterans have so dearly
bought and paid for.
* The right to exchange ideas freely -- to agree and to argue.
* The right to participate actively in the affairs of our nation.
* The right to live freely and proudly as Americans.
Our nation’s freedom is the finest possible monument to those we
honor today, and to all who wear the honored title of veteran. Even
the greatest of presidents could not ask for a more enduring
... In 1776, at the dawn of our nation’s history, the writer
Thomas Paine described the kind of man and woman it would take to be
a patriot in a free society.
He wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer
soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from
the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the
love and thanks of man and woman.”
In the soul of every person who has worn this nation’s uniform,
there is some kind of heroism. It is the kind of heroism that enables
some people to do their duty, and to go when, and where, they are
needed -- even as others cannot, or will not, do so. It is the kind
of heroism that is the tradition of America’s veterans.
It is the kind of heroism the millions of Americans who visit the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial each year understand and appreciate.
It is the kind of heroism we honor today.
During World War I, the English poet Lawrence Binyon wrote a
tribute to those who had given the last full measure of devotion on
behalf of their country. The poem was called “For the Fallen.” I will
read part of it today, in memory of the comrades whose sacrifice we
are commemorating. And the 58,000 whose names are memorialized behind
us. And the nearly 1 million men and women who have given their lives
throughout our history, so that all of us, and all our descendants,
could live in freedom.
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.”
God bless the souls of those we remember today;
Bless all who fell in the Vietnam War, and all who served
there--and those who loved them.
Bless our nation’s veterans and their families, and those who
serve today on the ramparts of freedom throughout the world.