11:32 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: To Acting Secretary Shanahan, Secretary Wilkie, members of the Cabinet, Secretary Esper, Secretary Wilson, General Dunford, honored guests, especially to the active-duty members of our armed forces, our veterans, and most of all, to our Gold Star families: We are honored by your presence. (Applause.)
On behalf of a grateful nation, it is my profound privilege to be here on the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery for the 151st occasion where we gather to pay a debt of honor and gratitude to the memory of those who gave their last full measure of devotion and, as that general order in 19 — in 1868 said first, to “renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us.”
As is evident by all your presence here, and by gatherings like this all across America, you know there is a day in November when we remember those who served and came home. But today is the day when, all across America, we pause to honor and remember those who served our nation but did not come home. It is Memorial Day in America.
To all of you here, and those looking on from afar, especially to the families of our fallen, we extend our deepest sympathies and we also bring the deepest respects and gratitude of the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The President and the First Lady came here to Arlington just this past Thursday. And while his duties have taken him to the other side of the world, I spoke to him just a little while ago, and I know his heart is here with all of you and with families across this nation, for whom every day is Memorial Day.
The Bible says: If you owe debts, pay debts. If honor, then honor. If respect, then respect. And the debt our nation owes to those who rest here among these hallowed fields and in cemeteries, churchyards, and humble plots across the wider world is a debt we can never fully repay.
For this is the day that makes possible all other American days. Without it, without the sacrifice we honor at patriots’ graves from the four corners of our land and overseas, there would be no other American days.
What we celebrate today as Memorial Day began just three short years after the end of the Civil War. It was originally established here as Decoration Day to take place on May 30, 1868, to honor fallen soldiers by decorating their final resting places with newly bloomed May flowers and that “dear old flag they saved.” And that tradition continues.
Since that time, here on the hallowed grounds of Arlington, and in churchyards, national cemeteries, and town squares across the land, Americans gathered to honor the lives and deeds of America’s greatest heroes and to assure their families that we will never forget, and we never fail to honor, the service and sacrifice of their loved ones. (Applause.)
We’re actually joined today by two leaders who have quite possibly done more to honor the memory of our fallen and support their families than any other living Americans. For his courageous service in World War II, for all they have both done to preserve the memory of the Greatest Generation, and for their support of military families, would you join me in thanking Senators Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole for their countless contributions to the United States of America? (Applause.)
The unbroken cord of military service stretches into the mists of American history. From Bunker Hill to Belleau Wood, from San Juan Hill to Saipan, from the Coral Sea to Kandahar, heroic Americans have answered their nation’s call and paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
Their duty was to serve. Our duty is to remember.
History records that more than 40 million have served in the uniform of the United States and nearly 1 million Americans have fallen in uniform since our nation’s founding.
Americans of every race and creed have fought and died for our freedom, but as I can tell from the faces of those gathered here, you know the numbers don’t tell the story. They tell nothing of the lives of promises cut short, of dreams unfulfilled, of families shattered.
Words fail when heroes fall. So we do well on this day, each year, just to tell their stories and to let their words and deeds speak for them.
David Ker was born in Louisiana in 1893. He was a student at Columbia University but he dropped out of college to fight in World War I.
He deployed to France, volunteered to participate in an attack on Saint-Mihiel, and two months before the guns fell silent, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Sergeant David Ker fell. After the war, the French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre with palm for his courageous service.
But a day before the attack, Sergeant Ker sent a letter to his mom. He wrote, and I quote: “Tomorrow the first totally American drive commences, and it gives me inexpressible joy and pride to know that I shall be present to do my share. Should I go under, I want you to know that I went without any terror of death, and that my chief worry is the grief my death will bring to those so dear to me.”
And then, he ended, saying, “I feel wonderfully strong to do my share well…for my sake, you must try to drown your sorrow in the pride [and] satisfaction…that I died well in so clean a cause as…ours.” He ended: “God bless and keep you, my dear heart…be kind to little Elizabeth…I love [you] so well…David.”
Today, we remember the service and sacrifice of Sergeant David Ker.
William Robinson Evans, Jr., was born in Indiana in 1918. He was an Eagle Scout. After graduating from college in Connecticut, he enlisted in the Navy’s Reserve Officer Pilot Program. He earned his wings of gold and was commissioned as an ensign in May of 1941.
In September, he was assigned to a Torpedo Squadron on the USS Hornet. And at 23, he was one of the squadron’s youngest pilots.
On the 4th of June, 1942, 15 torpedo planes from his squadron went into battle against overwhelming numbers of enemy fighters, and they were all shot down. But their sacrifice and their courage that day helped change the course of world history.
Ensign Evans received the Navy Cross posthumously for his heroism during the Air Battle of Midway.
But two months before he was lost, he wrote to a friend, these words: “Many of my friends are now dead. To a man, each died with a nonchalance that each would have denied was courage…If anything great or good is born of this war, it should not be valued in the colonies we may win [n]or in the pages historians will attempt to write, but rather in the youth of our country who never trained for war — rather almost…never believed in war — [but] who…from some hidden source [have] brought forth gallantry which is homespun it is so real.”
And then he said: “I say these things because I knew you liked and understood, boys…[and] I wanted you to know…they have not let you down.”
Today, we remember the service and sacrifice of Ensign Bill Evans, Jr. (Applause.)
John Floyd Cochrane was born in Michigan in 1941. First Lieutenant Cochrane served in the 409th Radio Unit in Vietnam. He led a platoon, and a man who served under him would say four decades later that he was “one…great guy.”
Lieutenant Cochrane fell to sniper fire on the 24th of October, 1966, just six days before he was scheduled to meet his wife in Hawaii on R&R.
In his final letter home, he wrote to his mom and dad these words: “Tonight…I’m awaiting an attack. Yes, that’s right. Your only son, who you didn’t raise to be stupid, is 11,000 miles away from home, sitting beneath a shaded Coleman lantern on top of a hill, waiting for a visit from our friend ‘Charley…'”
He later wrote, “I know why I’m here and why I couldn’t be any other place.” He said, “I do believe that basic principles are enough for a man to die for. We are here because we actually believe that our country is good enough to fight for, and if necessary, [to] die for.” (Applause.)
Today, we remember the service and sacrifice of First Lieutenant John Cochrane. (Applause.)
Three men, three wars. And as we recall their sacrifices, we cannot help but be inspired by their courage. And make no mistake about it: Their example is inspiring a new generation of heroes every day.
Paul Kelly was actually the son of a Vietnam fighter pilot. He was commissioned in 1982 as an officer through the University of Dayton’s ROTC program. He served in leadership positions with the Army National Guard.
Colonel Paul Kelly was a man who built up all those who served around him. He was known as a dedicated husband to his wife Maria and a proud father of his two sons, John and Paul David Kelly.
He was nicknamed “the Senator” because he was always shaking soldiers’ hands, no matter what the rank. He was a helicopter pilot, but he wasn’t manning the stick on 20 January, 2007, when he was lost in Iraq.
Ten years later, on July 20, 2017, 10 years after his father died in Iraq, his son, Paul David Kelly, enlisted in the Virginia National Guard. And Private Paul David Kelly, his brother John, and his wonderful mother Maria are here with us today. (Applause.) You honor us with your presence. Your family’s three generations of service are an inspiration to us all.
These stories of heroes we know from beginning to end, but it’s important on this Memorial Day to remember that for some families of our fallen, there is an added burden — the burden of having their loved one resting in a place known but to God.
Last year, on this solemn occasion, our President promised that “we [would] never stop searching for the servicemen and women who remain missing from wars and conflicts fought over the past century.” And we’ve never stopped.
Last June, at his first historic summit in Singapore with Chairman Kim Jong Un, President Trump had our missing fallen on his heart. And as he began negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Donald Trump also secured a promise for the return of the remains of all fallen U.S. service members lost in North Korea. (Applause.)
In August of last year, at Hickam Field in Hawaii, it was our honor to be present when 55 flag-draped coffins bearing the remains of Americans who fought in the Korean War returned to American soil.
And I must tell you, for this son of a combat veteran of the Korean War, I will never be given a higher honor than to have been present when our boys were finally coming home. (Applause.)
Some of the remains have been identified but more work remains. This is just a beginning. But I can assure you, and assure all the families of our missing fallen, we will never rest until every soldier is accounted for and resting on American soil. (Applause.)
So to the families of the fallen, here and looking on, who have sacrificed more than we can comprehend, know that the hearts of every American are with you today, and they’ll stay with you every day, as will our prayers.
We mourn with those who mourn and we grieve with those who grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope — because our faith gives us hope, and heroes give us hope. “For no greater love has a man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.”
Today, on Memorial Day, we honor Americans who showed no greater love for the American people. (Applause.)
We can never repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have given all to preserve our freedom. But we can honor them, remember them, and cherish their families. And this we will do not just this day, but every day.
And so long as our nation continues to produce men and women of such selfless courage and patriotism, I know that freedom will ring for ourselves and our posterity. Their duty was to serve. Our duty is to remember.
This Memorial Day, let every American renew our commitment to do our duty: to never fail — never fail to remember what they’ve done for us and never fail to honor and cherish the families they’ve left behind, and never fail to strive each and every day to be worthy of the freedom that they won for us all.
May God bless our heroic fallen. May those who mourn our heroes be comforted until He wipes every tear from their eyes. May God bless the men and women of our Armed Forces. And may God bless America. (Applause.)
11:53 A.M. EDT