Videos & Speeches
Thank you, Mark for that kind introduction, and thank you for the invitation to participate in this ceremony. It is fitting that we are gathered together today on these peaceful grounds, to honor those men and women who laid down their lives for our country.
Since the Civil War, Americans have gathered each year to remember those courageous souls who answered the call to serve. We gather together to express our gratitude. And we gather together to remind our children and grandchildren that because of the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans, we have the opportunity to live in the strongest, freest and greatest nation in the world.
To the families and friends of the fallen, and to all the veterans with us today, let me share with you a nation’s gratitude. We are blessed to live in a nation where individuals volunteer to defend our country and our way of life – no matter the cost. Today, we remember that freedom is not free.
Nearly 150 years ago, at a solemn ceremony held on a Pennsylvania battlefield in November of 1863, President Lincoln called on all Americans to never forget those who laid down their lives so that this “nation might live.” In his address at Gettysburg, he called on his fellow citizens to be dedicated to the “unfinished work” for which those soldiers fought and “gave their last full measure of devotion … that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
As citizens, we have a duty to preserve those freedoms and liberties that generations of Americans gave their lives to establish and protect. The heroes we pay tribute to today have shown us the way, and it is our turn to follow them in service to our country.
The strength of our nation lies within its citizens. Only when each citizen feels the duty to do his or her part will our nation be strengthened. This won’t come as a result of our individual successes, but in what we accomplish together. So when today’s ceremony has come to an end and the flags have been taken down, this commitment to citizenship will be our lasting tribute – our “living tribute” to our service members.
Often in Washington, it can be easy to forget what’s important in the midst of all the partisan politics, the next election or the latest poll. When I need a reminder, I take a walk – from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Between these two points, I pass the WWII Memorial, Vietnam Wall, and Korean War Memorial. These memorials to our citizen soldiers help put everything in perspective. Our freedoms are so important that our nation’s sons and daughters were willing to put their lives at risk to defend and protect them. These men and women didn’t sacrifice for Republicans or Democrats; they gave their lives for the greater good of our country and to ensure their children and grandchildren would also experience freedom and liberty. In Washington, D.C., elected officials should follow their lead and do what’s best for our country, rather than focus on their own political agendas.
One of the memorials that has special meaning for me is the World War II Memorial. In 2004, I visited this memorial a few days before the official dedication ceremony. As I walked among the many pillars, I came across the pillar representing the many Kansans who served, and I thought of my dad. He served in northern Africa and up the boot heel of Italy during the Second World War. As I turned to leave, I called my Dad and said: “I’m at the World War II Memorial and I thought of you. I respect you, I thank you for your service, and I love you.”
It was something that sons don’t often say to their parents, but there is something about memorials that make us stop and reflect on all that the previous generation gave up to secure our freedom. Many Kansans are represented by the memorials to our veterans in Washington – including one brave soldier who went above and beyond the call of duty in service to his country and fellow man during the Korean War. Someone whose reputation is well-known in this part of our state.
Father Emil Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas in 1916 and ordained as a Priest for the Diocese of Wichita in 1940. Four years later, he joined the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps and served as a chaplain for the 8th Calvary Regiment of the First Army Division. His courageous actions in the Korean War battlefields saved countless lives as he ran under enemy fire to rescue wounded soldiers. When Father Kapaun was taken as a prisoner in 1950, he continued to live out the Army Chaplain motto – “for God and Country.” In the bitter cold of winter, Father Kapaun carried injured comrades on his back during forced marches through the snow and ice, gave away his meager food rations and cared for the sick who were suffering alongside him in the prison camp. When all else looked hopeless, the Father rallied his comrades to persevere – until his own death as a prisoner in 1951. This good man distinguished himself by laying down his life for the sake of others. In Washington, D.C., we continue to work to award the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun. No one is more deserving of our nation’s distinguished award.
Today, our nation’s young men and women are still risking their lives for the sake of others and fighting for those principles we hold most dear – freedom and justice. There is no group of people I hold in higher regard than our nation’s troops and veterans, who have dedicated their lives to serving our country.
In closing, I’d like to share with you a hymn about these brave men and women – entitled, “Mansions of the Lord.” I first heard this hymn powerfully performed by the U.S. Armed Forces Chorus when I attended President Reagan’s memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
To fallen soldiers let us sing
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the mansions of the Lord
No more bleeding, no more fight
No prayers pleading through the night
Just divine embrace, eternal light
In the mansions of the Lord
Where no mothers cry and no children weep
We will stand and guard though the angels sleep
Through the ages safely keep
The mansions of the Lord
Today, we honor our fallen soldiers who laid down their lives for our country – at this mansion of the Lord. We thank God for giving us these heroes, and we ask for His help as we serve one another as citizens of this great nation.
Let us commit our lives to preserving this nation for the sake of the next generation – so they too can pursue the American dream with freedom and liberty. We are indebted to our veterans to do nothing less.
God bless our troops and our veterans. On this day, on these peaceful grounds, we are once again reminded to say: we respect you, we thank you and we love you.