Capitol Words a project of the Sunlight Foundation

  • and

Memorial Day 2006

Sen. Pete V. Domenici

legislator photo

Mr. President, I would like to pay tribute to those men and women of the United States Armed Services who have given their lives to defend our Nation and the ideals it represents.

Numerous times in the history of our Nation, the men and women of our Armed Forces have been called upon to defend the freedom we hold so dear. Sadly, many of those brave individuals never returned to the homes and families they selflessly left behind. Today, we honor their sacrifice and ensure that we as a nation will never forget the debt of gratitude that is owed them.

New Mexicans have a long and notable history of military service. During the Spanish American War, New Mexico guardsmen served with Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the Battle of San Juan Hill. New Mexicans of the 1st Infantry Regiment fought with the 40th Infantry Division in France after the U.S. entered the First World War. While participating in the Italian campaign of the Second World War, new Mexicans of the 104th Tank Destroyer battalion were awarded 8 Silver Stars, 60 Bronze Stars, and 135 Purple Hearts. Of course no one will forget the contribution Navajos from my home state made as ``code talkers'' or the bravery of the ``New Mexico Brigade'' in the Philippines during World War II. During the Vietnam War, the l88th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the New Mexico Air National Guard flew over 6,000 combat sorties and amassed over 630 medals and decorations before its release from Federal active duty in June 1969. These are just a few examples of the distinction with which New Mexicans have served our Nation. From the swamps of Cuba to the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of Iraq, many New Mexicans have given their lives on behalf of America, and for these reasons on Memorial Day we honor these brave men and women.

We must never forget the sacrifices of our solders, sailors, airmen and marines. I encourage New Mexicans and all Americans on this Memorial Day to take a moment to remember and honor the brave men and women who have fallen in our defense. I ask that New Mexicans think of them and their families, and give thanks that we are blessed with such heroic men and women.

On this Memorial Day, let us not overlook the men and women of our armed forces who since September 11, 2001 have been called away from home to fight the Global War on Terror. Many of these individuals are National Guardsmen like the members of Task Force Phoenix serving in Afghanistan, the 1116th Transportation Company serving in Iraq and Task Force Cobra serving in Kuwait. I would like to thank them and all the men and women of our State who have returned from previous deployments overseas. Not only have they made their family and state proud, they have made their country proud as well.

Today I would like to make special mention of those New Mexicans of the active and reserve military who have given their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terror. They, like Americans of generations past, answered the call to defend this great Nation from those who would do it harm. In the spirit of the efforts put forth by such individuals, it is imperative America forever remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sen. Chuck T. Hagel

legislator photo

Mr. President, Memorial Day is a time for solemn remembrance and reflection. We remember the brave men and women who gave their lives in defense of our Nation. At cemeteries and memorials across America, in tributes both public and private, we gather to honor those who died in service to our country. On May 12, members of the SGT John Rice family of Winnebago, NE, paid final tribute to his wife Evelyn who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband. The history of John and Evelyn Rice serves as an important reminder of the sacrifices soldiers and their families make in defense of freedom.

Sergeant Rice, a Winnebago Native American, was born on Nebraska's Winnebago reservation in 1914. After high school, he began looking for an opportunity outside of reservation life. He found that opportunity by serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Rice received a Purple Heart after being wounded and was discharged from the Army in 1945. Rice reenlisted in the Army in 1946, and among the many duties Rice performed were escorting the bodies of war casualties being brought back to the U.S. to be buried.

Rice's service again brought him into battle in 1950 during the Korea war, where he was killed in combat early in the conflict. It wasn't until almost a year later that his body was finally returned home to Winnebago. Evelyn arranged for the burial to be at Memorial Park Cemetery in Sioux City, IA, because it was close to the family and near Winnebago.

Sergeant Rice's funeral proceeded as planned on August 28, 1951. It wasn't until after Evelyn and the family left the funeral service that cemetery personnel discovered that Rice was Native American. Evelyn was told that Sergeant Rice's burial would not be completed due to a cemetery rule that only Caucasians could be buried there. In an effort to try and solve the situation, the cemetery personnel proposed to Evelyn that she could sign a document stating that Rice was Caucasian and they would finish the burial. Evelyn rejected that offer and later stated that, ``When these men are in the army, they are all equal and the same. I certainly thought they would be the same after death . . .''

Two military officers who were present at the funeral alerted Army officials in Washington of the funeral's disruption. The day after Rice's funeral, news of what happened reached President Harry S. Truman, and he offered Evelyn a space for her husband to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Evelyn accepted the President's offer and arrangements were made a few days later for a ceremony to take place at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Sergeant Rice is believed to be the first Native American soldier to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Evelyn Rice passed away last year at the age of 83 and was buried earlier this month next to her husband at Arlington National Cemetery. Her courage in refusing to accept anything less than respect and honor for her husband's service and sacrifice is an example all Nebraskans can be proud of. Evelyn Rice embodied the best of America's spirit by standing up to injustice during a very difficult time for her and her family, community and country.

We must be vigilant in our efforts to remember the sacrifices of those we honor on Memorial Day. I authored a Senate resolution, which is now law, to observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time each Memorial Day. Reserving this moment to reflect on Memorial Day is one way to honor those who died in service to our country. I ask everyone to join me this Memorial Day in honoring America's fallen heroes and their families, like SGT John and Evelyn Rice, and thank all those who have served their country in uniform.

Sen. John Cornyn

legislator photo

Mr. President, Memorial Day is a day we have set aside to remember those who have given their lives--``the last full measure of devotion''--in service to our country.

As President Abraham Lincoln looked out across the cemetery at Gettysburg, he honored the sacrifice of the soldiers who had died there and how their sacrifices preserved the Union and advanced the cause of freedom.

For more than 200 years, men--and later, women--have donned the uniform and met the many challenges of serving our great Nation and the ideals on which it was founded. Countless numbers of them have paid the ultimate price--and we honor them today.

Our freedom was not free. It was bought and paid for by the sacrifices of generations that have gone before. We honor these heroes for their courage and for ensuring that our own freedom is more than a dream--that it is indeed a reality.

Those who fought in our country's Civil War are long passed. And many of those brave men who served in our World Wars too have passed. Members of what we fondly call the ``greatest generation'' are leaving our midst in record numbers, and we mourn their passing--these brave men who liberated so many from tyranny. They are gone, but they certainly are not forgotten.

Memorial Day is not merely the opportunity for a 3-day weekend. It is our duty--indeed, it is our privilege--to reflect on the sacrifices that have paid the price for our freedoms.

We must also acknowledge the heroism and sacrifice of our brave men and women currently serving in the Armed Forces. I know I speak for the people of my State of Texas, and for all Americans, when I thank our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines--and their loved ones waiting patiently at home--for their service and their dedication to duty.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, it is my job and my honor to look after the interests of all of our military personnel. We must ensure that the military continues to have the tools it needs to remain the most powerful fighting force the world has ever known.

Our Texas military bases are some of the strongest components of our military readiness in the current global war against terror. These valuable assets help to maintain our status as the world's lone superpower, even as we transform our military to face the challenges of the future.

Soldiers are not just numbers or statistics. These are real Americans. True patriots. They have real families. When someone leaves home to fight for American interests abroad, it affects their entire community; it affects their friends and, most profoundly, it affects their families.

And so while we must remember the sacrifices of the brave men and women who fight on the battlefield, we must also be mindful of the sacrifices of those they leave behind--and so on behalf of a grateful nation, I thank them today, as well.

The difference our military is making in the world is undeniable. Just a short while ago, the idea that the Iraqi people could live free was a concept that many would not treat seriously. But the Iraqi people are forging ahead and have formed a unity government and are firmly embracing the opportunities that freedom provides.

I wish there were more balance in this discussion about Iraq. There are so many good things happening there--so many good things. And largely, unfortunately, they are left unreported.

Recently, Jack Kelly, former marine, Green Beret, and deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration, highlighted some of these important stories--for example, the account of marine Sgt Rafael Peralta, who has been posthumously recommended for the Medal of Honor.

I quote: ``Sgt. Peralta was killed on Nov. 15, 2004, during the second battle of Fallujah. His squad was clearing a house. Sgt. Peralta was the first into a room where at least three insurgents lay in ambush. He was shot in the chest and the face, but still had the presence of mind to jump into an adjoining room to give the marines behind him a clear field of fire.

Four marines maneuvered into the room where Sgt. Peralta lay when an insurgent tossed a grenade into it. Sgt. Peralta pulled the grenade to him and smothered it with his body, saving the others from death or serious injury.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta died for a country he loved, but of which he was not yet a citizen. A Mexican immigrant who lived in San Diego, Sgt. Peralta enlisted in the marines the day he received his green card.

``Be proud of being an American,'' Sgt. Peralta had written to his younger brother in the only letter he ever sent him.

While this is only one story, there are hundreds more that should be acknowleged.

In recent correspondence, Iraqi Freedom veteran Major Mark McDaniel of the 301st Fighter Wing in Fort Worth wrote these words: ``Our efforts there in providing security enabled these courageous people to work through the sectarian issues that existed . . . I believe that this weekend has vindicated our presence and our sacrifices in Iraq. I, and the other members of the 301st Fighter Wing . . . believe in our mission there.''

And we here at home believe in our men and women in uniform--in their courage and the cause of freedom they defend. We must always remember our Nation's heroes and live in a manner worthy of their sacrifice.