Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, fellow Americans:

It is with great honor and humility that we gather here at the Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial today to commemorate Memorial Day. On this day, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who have given their lives in service to our great nation. We remember their courage, their sacrifice, and their unwavering commitment to the ideals that define us as Americans.

The history of Memorial Day dates back to the Civil War, when it was known as Decoration Day. It was a day families chose to honor the soldiers who had fallen in the conflict that had torn our nation apart. Over time, this day of remembrance expanded to include all those servicemembers who have died in service to our country.

Today, we stand in awe of the almost 1.2 million Americans who have given their lives, their “last full measure of devotion,” to the United States of America. From the first militiamen who fell at Lexington and Concord, to the most recent service member to die in the line of duty, we honor their memory and their sacrifice.

These heroes came from all walks of life. They were farmers, factory workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and everything in between. They left behind families, friends, and loved ones, all in the name of freedom and our constitutional republic. They knew the risks, yet they answered the call to serve.

In the words of President Abraham Lincoln, they gave “the last full measure of devotion.” They gave everything they had, and in doing so, they secured the blessings of liberty for us and our posterity. They gave their lives so that we might live in peace and prosperity, free from foreign tyranny and oppression.

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My friend and colleague Major Greg Stone is one such hero. Major Stone volunteered to leave his position as a staff officer developing experimental combat tactics to become the 101st Airborne Division’s Air Liaison Officer and deploy for combat with them to fight in Iraq. Greg gave his last full measure of devotion just 48 hours before the division was ordered into Iraq, at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March of 2003. Greg willingly put himself in harm’s way and was killed in a sneak attack by an Islamist terrorist who had infiltrated our own Army. Major Stone is among the first two Americans considered killed in action during OIF. But the most important thing we remember about Gregg isn’t how he died, but how he lived. He was a father, devoted son, a brilliant entrepreneur who started a fledgling internet business on the side in the mid-1990’s because we had such crappy access in Rapid City South Dakota where we flew B-1 Bombers together. Gregg always saw the possibility of something and would take off and find a way to make things happen. For those who didn’t believe him, he would apply his wicked sense of humor to any situation, able to look you in the face while spinning a tale you knew was a complete yarn but his deadpan expression had you almost believing the story, until we all would break out laughing realizing Linus was pulling our leg in a huge way! Yes, as Air Force combat aviators we all had callsigns and we called him Linus because no matter where we were in the world, a desert in a tent with nothing but a sand floor, or on an island in the Pacific, Linus would inevitably produce his trademark soft blanket and pillow! My friend was a selfless Air Force Officer who put his life on the line for our freedom, every single day I flew with him and in his last act of heroism by placing himself directly in danger he didn’t have to face, to serve others.

In honoring these heroes, we also honor the families they left behind. The spouses, the children, the parents, and the siblings who bear the weight of their loss. We cannot fully comprehend the depth of their grief, but we can offer our deepest condolences and our unwavering support.

On this Memorial Day, let us renew our commitment to the principles for which these heroes fought and died. Let us remember that our freedom is not free, and that it is our duty to protect and preserve it for future generations.

As we reflect on the past, we must also look to the future. Let us strive to be worthy of the sacrifices made by these heroes. Let us continue to work together to achieve the more perfect Union objective in our constitution by ensuring our government follows it and all Americans have the same freedoms, opportunities, and equality before the law regardless of where they were born or what situation they were born into.

In closing, I would like to share the words of President John F. Kennedy, who said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Let us honor the memory of our fallen heroes not just with words, but with actions. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friend and Air Force veteran Bob Kranz, who recently passed away, and was the living example of honoring these heroes with his actions, using his boundless energy and love to support this beautiful memorial tirelessly.

May God bless our fallen heroes, our Gold Star families, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you.