Remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson

Dr. Edward Byrd Monument Unveiling, Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Charleston, S.C.
November 10, 2015

All around us, every day, we’re surrounded by freedoms Veterans have guaranteed.

Too many may miss this point.

We see them in public meeting places where we speak openly on any subject, in reverent places we gather to worship—as we see fit, in the variety of the media we choose to read or watch that’s written and broadcasted by those free to express opinions—absent the fear of reprisal, in places we go to cast our votes for those we believe most worthy to govern this great Nation.

Those freedoms reflect the service and immense sacrifices of Veterans, and sacrifices of their families, too. Those freedoms are bequeathed to us by the bravest men, like Private Ralph H. Johnson, who gave his life to save his fellow Marines from harm.

Ms. Helen Richards, thank you, and may God bless you and your family, for your sacrifice.

Those freedoms are passed down to us by young men like Dr. Byrd’s PFC Dennis Lee Lobbezoo, whose legacy is fortified in Dr. Byrd’s work.

They’re defended by heroes like Major General James Livingston. General Livingston’s unfaltering and courageous leadership, his utter disregard for his own safety—inspired men to persevere in brutal combat. General Livingston, thank you, sir.

And even as we celebrate our Veterans, those same freedoms are being preserved by the courageous men and women serving today, inspired by high examples of those who preceded them.

Today, 15 years into the 21st Century, a new generation of warriors are making their own place in history, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other posts around the globe.

The day after tomorrow, President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Captain Florent “Flo” Groberg.

His is a great American story. Flo and his family immigrated to the United States, and Flo became a U.S. citizen. Commissioned an infantryman and graduated from Airborne school and Ranger school, he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, the Ivy Division.

On his second tour to Afghanistan and the Kunar Province, one of the hottest places in the country, he put his life on the line for his Soldiers, much like his forebear Private Johnson did in the Quan Duc Valley.

Flo’s courageous actions saved the lives of many, and his team accomplished their mission.

There’s a common denominator to these stories: hope.

Because of them, and in spite of any day-to-day and longer-term national and international security challenges our country may face, we nurture a justifiable hope . . . assurance that the freedoms, liberty, and opportunity we cherish will endure for many, many generations to come.

In a few moments, we’ll have the privilege to unveil Dr. Byrd’s remarkable sculpture. You may have seen it already, perhaps in the news.

Once won’t be enough. It’s truly breathtaking. Powerful.

When you see it—when you examine it, embrace it, and really immerse yourself in it—I think you’ll experience a flood of emotion, of compassion, of deep respect: respect and admiration for the subject, Private First Class Lobbezoo; respect for the artist who has laid bare his soul, sacrificed a part of himself for us and every Veteran; respect and admiration for what the subject represents; and respect and thoughtful reflection for the sobering question Dr. Byrd’s work demands of us at this moment in our Nation’s history: “‘What is the cost of war?’”

Remember the hope I talked about? You’ll see hope in that bronze, too. Captain Groberg explained it for us: “We defeated the enemy that day. . . . No matter how bad you want to hurt us, we’re always gonna keep standing up and bringing it back twice fold . . . .”

So when all seems lost—in the direst of circumstances—there’s always the dignity and grace of those willing to fight to the end to preserve our freedom, no matter the cost to themselves.

As a Veteran myself, I’m proud I had the opportunity to serve my country in uniform. Now, I’m proud and truly privileged to serve alongside my VA colleagues as we move forward to strengthen and renew the sacred covenant between America and her Veterans.

Thank you. God bless all of you. And God bless this great Nation of ours.