||Posted: Thu May 27 21:33:40 2004
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||Secretary Powell on Memorial Day:
Every Memorial Day, my sister, Marilyn, and I would put on our Sunday best
and accompany our parents to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to visit the
graves of family members. Like all kids, my sister and I were happy to have
the day off from school, and I can't say we were in a solemn frame of mind.
But taking part in that annual rite of remembrance gave me my first sense of
the importance of honoring those who have gone before.
I grew up and chose a soldier's life. I lost close friends in war.
Later, I commanded young men and women who went willingly into harm's way
for our country, some never to return. A day doesn't pass that I don't think
of them. Paying homage to the fallen holds a deeply personal meaning for me
and for anyone who ever wore a uniform.
In 1990, when I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I took my Soviet
counterpart, Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev, around the United States. I wanted to
give him a better understanding of what America is all about.
We started in Washington, D.C. I especially wanted to take him to the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
But I didn't take him there directly. First, I took him to the Jefferson
Memorial. I pointed out a passage from the Declaration of Independence
carved into its curved wall. All who have served in our armed forces share
its sentiment. "And for the support of this Declaration," Jefferson wrote,
"... we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour."
Then I asked the general to look up.
Above the statue of Jefferson, in 2-foot-high letters on the base of the
monument's dome, is this inscription: "I have sworn upon the altar of God
eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
Here, I said, you see the foundation of America, a nation where "We hold
these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
I told the general that like Washington, Jefferson and all our Founding
Fathers, Americans of every generation are ready to fight and die for those
Then, to show Gen. Moiseyev the kind of sacrifices Americans are willing to
make, I took him to the Lincoln Memorial, where Lincoln's words at
Gettysburg are engraved. There, Lincoln said we had fought the bloodiest war
in our history so our nation "shall have a new birth of freedom" and so
"government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish
from the earth." I wanted Gen. Moiseyev to see how sacred those words are to
I showed the general the final lines of Lincoln's second inaugural
address: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in
the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the
work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall
have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan..."
I then walked the general part of the way down the Lincoln Memorial's steps
to the place from which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a
Dream" speech. I explained that the unfinished work of which Lincoln spoke
was still unfinished a century later, so from the very spot on which we
stood, King challenged his fellow Americans to make the promise of our
Founding Fathers come true for all Americans.
Only now was I ready to take Gen. Moiseyev to the Vietnam memorial. We
walked the short distance from the Lincoln Memorial to the Wall. I showed
the general how to find someone's name on it. I looked up Maj.
Tony Mavroudis. Tony and I had grown up together on the streets of New York.
We went to college together. We became infantrymen together. And in 1967, on
his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Tony was killed. The memorial book
directed us to Panel 28 East, and there we found ANTONIO M MAVROUDIS carved
into the black granite. It was an emotional moment for me, and not just for
me. Gen. Moiseyev reached out gently and touched the Wall. The infantryman
in him understood.
Thankfully, our forces no longer face the prospect of war with the Soviet
Union. Today, we are cooperating with Russia's evolving democracy and with
other former foes against 21st-century dangers common to us all. Today's
deadly threats come from rogue powers and stateless networks of extremists
who have nothing but contempt for the sanctity of human life and for the
principles civilized nations hold dear.
I do not know or care what terrorists and tyrants make of our monuments to
democracy and the memorials we dedicate to our dead. What's important is
what the monuments and memorials say to us. They can teach us much about the
ideas that unite us in our diversity, the values that sustain us in times of
trial, and the dream that inspires generation after generation of ordinary
Americans to perform extraordinary acts of service. In short, our monuments
and memorials tell us a great deal about America's commitment to life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.
The haunting symbolism of the 168 empty chairs at the Oklahoma City National
Memorial, the heartbreaking piles of shoes in the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum, the carefully tended headstones bearing crosses,
crescents and Stars of David standing row-on-row in Arlington and our other
national cemeteries - all speak to the value we place on human life.
The Vietnam Women's Memorial of the three servicewomen and the wounded GI;
the Korean War Veterans Memorial's haggard, windblown patrol trudging up the
rugged terrain; and the memorial of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima do not
glorify war - they testify to the glory of the human spirit.
The Civil War battlefields and the monument in Boston to Robert Gould Shaw
and his 54th Massachusetts Regiment of Negro soldiers who rode together into
the jaws of death for the cause of justice tell us of the price past
generations have paid so we might live in a more perfect union. They remind
us also of the work our generation must do.
This Memorial Day weekend, we will join in celebrating the opening of the
National World War II Memorial honoring the great generation of Americans
who saved the world from fascist aggression and secured the blessings of
liberty for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Today, their descendants are fighting the global war against terrorism,
serving and sacrificing in Afghanistan and Iraq and at other outposts on the
front lines of freedom. The life of each and every one of them is precious
to their loved ones and to our nation. And each life given in the name of
liberty is a life that has not been lost in vain.
In time, lasting memorials will stand where the Twin Towers once etched New
York City's skyline, near the west side of the Pentagon, and in the
Pennsylvania field where doomed heroes died on Sept. 11, 2001, using their
last moments to save the lives of others and most probably the Capitol or
the White House - symbols of our living democracy.
All of us lead busy lives. We have little time to pause and reflect.
But I ask of you: Do not hasten through Memorial Day. Take the time to
remember the good souls whose memories are a blessing to you and your
family. Take your children to our memorial parks and monuments. Teach them
the values that lend meaning to our lives and to the life of our nation.
Above all, take the time to honor our fellow Americans who have given their
last full measure of devotion to our country and for the freedoms we
||Posted: Fri May 28 05:35:03 2004
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