Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Night of American Heroes Gala
September 3, 2010
Admiral Bob Kihune—thank you for that kind introduction and for the work of the U.S.S. Missouri Associationin preserving “Mighty Mo” for the education of future generations.
Thanks, also, to you and the association for the recognition you bestow on Ed Carter, Bill Paty, and Ric Shinseki, a high honor, which we will each long remember and try hard to live up to. In accepting your Heroes Award, we salute all who have served on the Missouri, especially those who served on her in combat;
Fellow Veterans, especially those of our World War II generation, and among them, here in Hawai’i, the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service, to whom we owe so much.
State and local officials from the great state of Hawaii; flag and general officers, both active and retired; and the sponsors, who have made all things possible this evening and whose support is so critical to preserving and maintaining the USS. Missouri; other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Yesterday, I was privileged to stride the main deck of the USS. Missouri in Pearl Harbor, within sight of the USS. Arizona Memorial, and reflect on the significance of these two symbols to our Nation’s history. The Arizona and the Missouri today silently mark one of the defining chapters in our life as a Nation—World War II—a war that began terrifyingly on 7 December 1941, when the Arizona went down with most of her crew, and a war that ended quietly on the deck of the Missouri with Japan’s signing the instruments of surrender on 2 September 1945.
This 65th anniversary of the end of World War II allows us to reflect on this unique generation of Americans, whose sacrifices for, and contributions to, America, marked our coming of age as emergent world power and our subsequent rise to global leader and superpower status by the end of the 20th century.
Bill Paty and Ed Carter are of that magnificent generation. Let me say to them, and to all other World War II Veterans in the audience this evening, including the men who fought “Mighty Mo,” how much the Nation respects and admires them. Theirs were the shoulders on which I and my generation of young leaders stood as we grew up in the profession of arms. You raised us; your values and quiet virtues reflect our highest hopes and aspirations as a Nation. Thank you for all you’ve done for our country.
Courage and sacrifice are highly valued virtues in the profession of arms; yet, we are often hard pressed to fully explain them when courage and sacrifice are revealed at their highest and purest levels. Examples abound of service “above and beyond the call of duty.”
Early on 7 December 1941, a then-30-year old chief petty officer, who had enlisted at 17, raced to Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, where he was assigned as an aviation ordnance man, as the attack on Pearl Harbor began. Once there, he rigged a .50-caliber machine gun onto a mobile gunnery trainer and pushed it into an open parking lot, completely exposed to enemy pilots.
For two hours he fought attacking aircraft, often at close quarters, when planes passed low enough for him to see pilots’ faces. Exposed and undaunted, he received 21 separate wounds and left his weapon only when ordered to seek medical aid. After treatment, despite great pain, which would have debilitated most anyone else, he returned to his squadron to supervise the re-arming of returning planes. For courage and determination above and beyond the call of duty, John William Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor.
On the night of 4-5 September 1952, in Korea, a young Marine volunteered for a second continuous mission on a strategic combat outpost line, far in advance of his unit’s main battle area. He resolutely defended his position under enemy artillery and mortar barrages and delivered devastating fires from two machine guns and his carbine on the attacking enemy battalion. Laying his weapons down on the cool earth to keep them from overheating, he accounted for 150 enemy killed and 50 wounded that night. For intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, Private First Class Alford McLaughlin, too, was awarded the Medal of Honor.
From my generation came a young captain, who distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965, while held as a prisoner of war. Severely wounded during an attack by a heavily armed enemy battalion, he fought until he ran out of ammunition before being taken prisoner. As a POW, he continued to resist his Viet Cong captors for two long years—assuming command of his fellow prisoners, scorning the enemy’s brutal mistreatment of them, making three unsuccessful escape attempts.
Unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America, his captors executed him on 26 September 1965. The last time his fellow prisoners heard his voice, Rocky Versace was singing God Bless America at the top of his voice to rally his fellow prisoners and strengthen their resolve in resisting the enemy’s efforts to break their spirits. For his courage and sacrifice, Captain Rocky Versace was also awarded the Medal of Honor.
In Somalia, two Special Forces Soldiers volunteered to secure a downed helicopter on 3 October, 1993, to rescue survivors amidst the intense fire coming into the surrounded aircraft. They broke through hundreds of encircling enemy but gave their own lives in saving the pilot, the only crew member to survive. For their courage and supreme sacrifice, Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall Shugart were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Six Medals of Honor have been awarded, posthumously, for actions in Afghanistan and Iraq: Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, U.S. Army, for conspicuous gallantry on 4 April, 2003, in repelling a company-sized attack that threatened to overrun his engineer work party; Corporal Jason Dunham, United States Marine Corps, Rifle Squad Leader, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 14 April, 2004, Karabilah, Iraq, for conspicuous gallantry in giving his life for members of his team. Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry in saving his special reconnaissance element, June 2005, Asadabad, Afghanistan. Sergeant First Class Jared Monti, U.S. Army, gave his life on a third attempt to rescue a wounded Soldier under intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fire on 21 June, 2006, in Afghanistan. Master at Arms 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry in giving his life to protect members of his combined SEAL and Iraqi sniper overwatch element, 29 September 2006, Ar Ramadi, Iraq. And Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis, U. S. Army, M2 .50-caliber Machine Gunner, Company C, 1-26th Infantry Regiment, for conspicuous gallantry on 4 December 2006, in giving his life to protect his teammates.
These are some of the very special, among all who have, throughout time, guaranteed our peace and freedom as a Nation because they rose to heights of service “above and beyond the call of duty.”
During a recent speech, President Obama mentioned another warrior from our latest generation. On 1 October of last year, a 300-pound roadside bomb targeted nine Army Rangers out of the 1st Ranger Battalion in Afghanistan, killing one and injuring the other eight. One Ranger was blown into a nearby canal, the right side of his head shattered and caved in.
Following medical evacuation, six surgeries at military hospitals in Afghanistan, Germany and Bethesda, Maryland, the young Ranger was sent to the Tampa VA Medical Center in November 2009. He was fully comatose, in a state doctors describe as vegetative. The odds for a recovery, any recovery at all, were long.
But this young man, his family, VA therapists, doctors, and nurses never gave up; they rallied to his side, working his limbs and massaging his body, using a wide variety of medications, aromas, television, music—anything which might stimulate his senses—everything they could think of to bring him to consciousness.
Days, weeks, months—nothing. Then one day, doctors realized that he had regained consciousness. Through sheer determination on his part, mirrored by the unwavering efforts of those who love and care for him, his progress has been agonizingly slow but miraculously steady. He communicated first with a computer keyboard, but has now, slowly, regained his ability to speak. He is one of the 70 percent of comatose patients that VA’s “emerging consciousness” programs have reclaimed from the darkness.
His name is Staff Sergeant Cory Remsburg. As the President recounted, when someone at the VA hospital told him, “Cory, some day you’re going to walk out of here,” he replied, “No. I’m going to run out of here.” Cory is a fighter—he was wounded on his 10th—his 10th –deployment since 11 September 2001.
Here’s why his story is important. Although not a Medal of Honor recipient, Staff Sergeant Remsburg embodies the same fighting spirit, courage, and determination that ran through every one of the citations I invoked earlier—the same spirit, the same mental toughness, the same willingness to put it all on the line for one another and the Nation. That quality of commitment and trust permeates entire formations. This is what has served our Nation throughout our history.
Every generation has produced its heroes, even when we are hard pressed to define the source of their strength and determination, or explain acts of courage and sacrifice so profound as to defy imagination. From Lexington and Concord to Iraq and Afghanistan, we have had no lack of heroes. The 442nd RCT earned 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented 8 Presidential Unit Citations. Senator Dan Inouye is among those Medal of Honor recipients, but they would be the first to remind us that they were not the only heroes in the battles they fought. We should all be humbled by the dedication, the toughness, the discipline, and, given the right spark, the right circumstances, the willingness to rise to heights above and beyond the call of duty. They are in our midst tonight. They wear the uniforms of our Nation, and they continue to serve us exceedingly well. These are our heroes, and we owe them all our deepest and sincerest respect and admiration.
On behalf of Ed Carter and Bill Paty, thank you again for the honor of this award.
God bless each and every one of you. God bless those who serve and have served our Nation. And may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours. Thank you.