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Speeches

Veterans Day 2009

William D. Douglass — Chargé d'Affairs to the Federated States of Micronesia

November 11, 2009

Military veterans and active duty personnel, President Mori, Secretary Robert, Vice Speaker Primo, Governor Ehsa, FSM government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all to the Embassy grounds for our Veterans Day celebration on this fine morning. Now, I should have listed President Mori first in my list of acknowledgements. As Chief of State he deserves that honor. Mr. President I ask you to please forgive my breach of protocol this one time, for on this day we give our utmost respect and honor to you, the Micronesians and Americans who serve and have served in the U.S. armed forces.

Veterans Day traces its beginnings to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918, when the countries fighting on Europe’s battlefields agreed to an armistice. In its time, the horror and devastation of the First World War was unimaginable. The United States lost more than 116,000 troops. Our Australian friends suffered a casualty rate of almost 65% of their total forces. People said it was “The War to End All Wars,” but the rest of the 20th century taught us that man’s capacity for conflict knows few boundaries.

And in our countries’ most trying times, we turn to the men and women of the United States military to stand in the breach, to hold back the tide of those seeking to impose their will through the barrel of a gun, and preserve the freedom and independence our forebears paid so dearly to defend. Those of us who have never served may not comprehend the sacrifices that you, our veterans, have made. You don the uniform and find yourself under fire in places you never heard of before: Belleau Wood, Anzio, Inchon Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Salines, Rio Hato, Khafji, Kandahar, Ramallah. Moreover, while you serve almost every decision about your life is made by someone else: where you live, what you do, who you interact with.

But if there is one thing more difficult than choosing the life of a warrior, it is choosing to love a warrior. Is the anxiety before battle worse than the fear a parent feels knowing that their child is in harm’s way? Is the soldier in a muddy trench in a worse position than the spouse in a lonely room, worrying about their loved one on deployment? As tough as our servicemen and women may be, they could not do what they do without your love and support, and for that, we thank you. Our veterans and their families bear their burdens with little complaint, for they know there are higher goals at stake: no less than the security of the American and Micronesian nations, as well as the preservation, and restoration, of peace on earth.

There is no secret why the ideals of democracy and freedom have endured in Micronesia and the United States. It’s not because of the politicians and the lawyers. It’s because in every generation, from the Revolutionary War to the present, brave Micronesians and Americans have stepped forward and served honorably. If you look on the front cover of your program, you’ll see the photo of a World War I veteran holding the flag that draped the casket of his son who was killed in Korea. As one generation gives way to the next, the tradition continues. And in our government holidays, our public ceremonies, and our private prayers we give thanks to the hidden heroes of our two nations: the neighbors and shopkeepers, the family members and friends, the colleagues and associates, those who answered the call and returned to their homes with little pomp or ceremony.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln pleaded with the north and south to avoid bloodshed by embracing the “better angels of our nature.” That appeal went unheeded, and the United States entered the darkest period in its history. The Civil War was followed by a succession of other conflicts, some that rage on at this very hour. While mankind has not yet learned to abolish war, we mark this day to give thanks to those who entered the maelstrom, and remember those who failed to return.

Veterans, I would ask that when your days on this earth have come to an end, and you meet your fallen comrades in the great reward, let them know. Tell them they are not forgotten, that we remember them and all they have done for us, that we will continue to teach our children to say “thank you,” even after the day comes when we finally refrain from going to war, and the better angels of our nature rest comfortably on our shoulders forever more.