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Memorial Day Remarks


May 29 - REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
MEMORIAL DAY WREATH-LAYING CEREMONY
Monday, May 29, 2000

I want to thank Bob Delabar for being here today. It brings back so many memories. I remember our first duty assignment together at Fort Rucker in Alabama. And I remember our times together in Vietnam. Bob was stationed in Saigon, and I was about 25 miles north, in the 20th Engineer Brigade -- where I rose all the way to the lofty rank of Spec-Five. We were discharged on the same day.

Bob’s presence here now reminds me of a gift I received from a fellow Vietnam vet. It’s a canteen, and these are the words engraved on it:

Each face will lose its name,
And time will not defer,
For there will always be the bond
Between who we are
And where we were.

I know that my service doesn’t match that of the heroes we honor on this day. I was an Army reporter, and when I went out into the field, I carried both a pencil and an M-16.

Anyone who has seen war and survived war knows the courage and the character of our fellow soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion.

I was not eager to go to Vietnam. Like many in my generation, I had deep misgivings about that conflict.

But I enlisted because I felt a responsibility to serve.

Tipper and I had just been married. And we were living on a private’s pay on the outskirts of an Army post in Daleville, Alabama. I’ll never forget the times when the helicopters blew our laundry off the clothesline and onto the red clay.

Tipper and I said goodbye to each other on our first Christmas together, and I headed off to Vietnam.

Maybe some of those we memorialize today were on the same flight with me. I was fortunate enough to come home. But that did not diminish the hurt and confusion I felt when I returned to America. It was a time when few seemed to respect our service, or welcome us back. Too many who had given so much were given too little – neither the help they needed nor the respect they had earned. Men and women of great bravery were scorned.

That experience was one of the forces that convinced me I would never enter public life. I started a family, and went to work as a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean. I studied religion at Vanderbilt, and I thought running for office was the last thing I would ever do.

But as a young reporter, I saw more of what could go wrong in this country. And I saw so many people working in their own communities to make things right.

I decided that you could not turn away from service at home – any more than I could have turned away from service in Vietnam.

And what we honor today is the highest form of service -- the selflessness and sacrifice of those who for two centuries have answered the call, and whose graves are everywhere in this country and all around the world they have helped to save.

This community has its own legion of heroes.

During the Revolutionary War, a young soldier from the Mon Valley, John Lane, risked his life to save the life of General LaFayette in the Battle of Brandywine.

It was the “Round Heads” of Pennsylvania’s 100th Regiment whose blood and bravery on the battlefield of Gettysburg preserved government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

It was the dough boys of Pennsylvania’s 28th Division who in the decisive days of World War One battled their way through Chateau Thierry and the Argonne Forest. The fighting was so fierce, and their heroism so singular, that the red keystone they wore on their uniforms came to be known as “the bucket of blood.”

And the day after Pearl Harbor, it was the sons and nephews of those men who formed long lines outside the recruiting stations of Western Pennsylvania – all of them knowing the cost, and all of them prepared to pay the price.

There are many monuments to these two centuries of service. Many medals have been struck and many proclamations have been issued to honor their heroism.

But there is no more shining memorial to their monument to their valor – no greater testament to their greatness – than the freedom they secured for their country, their families, for ourselves and for our children.

On Memorial Day a hundred years ago, more than half the world’s population lived under monarchies. And one third lived under colonial rule.

Today, nearly two thirds of all the world lives in self-governing democracies. In the most fateful struggles in human history, freedom has triumphed over the worst forms of tyranny in human history. The values America has declared and defended are rising almost everywhere across the globe.

You do not have to be a veteran to recognize that America is the land of the free, because our men and women in uniform have made it the home of the brave.

So on this Memorial Day, let us remember that the liberty they fought for is not a destination, but a never-ending journey.

As President Kennedy said: “Democracy…is a call to untiring effort, to continual sacrifice, and to the willingness, if necessary, to die in its defense.”

We owe it to those who have to make certain that America remains the most powerful force for peace, freedom, and prosperity that the world has ever known.

We owe it to our country and our ideals to stand for a strong and unyielding defense – and we owe it to our soldiers to back them up when they are on the front lines.

And we owe it to those who have stood watch on freedom’s walls, to cherish, honor, and reward their service, and to see to it that our veterans are always welcomed home with gratitude and caring.

On that long ago day that I enlisted – a day that still seems so close to me in memory – I loved my country, and today I still do.

And at three o’clock this afternoon, we will pay tribute to all who have paid the ultimate price for their love of country with a National Moment of Remembrance. While that silence will last for only one minute, their indelible deeds will live as long as America itself.

So in the poet’s words we say of them:

Those souls are great, who, dying gave
A gift of greater life to man;
Death stands abashed before the brave;
They own a life death cannot ban.

May God bless those we remember today -- and may God bless the America hat can never forget them.

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