Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

Veterans Day, Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, VA
November 11, 2015

Mr. President and Vice President Biden, thank you both for your leadership and for your steady, strong advocacy for our Nation’s Veterans, Servicemembers, their families, and our survivors.

You have shown, in so many ways, that your respect, admiration, and gratitude for those who have worn the uniforms of our country are abiding commitments every day of every year for those who have served—not just on a single day of each year. Thank you.

Let me also acknowledge:

  • Medal of Honor Recipients Thomas Kelley and Brian Thacker. We’re honored by your courage and heroism in battle;
  • Secretary Carter and your wife;
  • White House Chief-of-Staff McDonough, Administrator McCarthy;
  • United States Trade Representative Froman, your spouses and guests;
  • Senators Collins, Franken, Cotton, Tillis, and Sullivan, and your spouses and guests;
  • Ambassador Rice;
  • Chairman Dunford and General Selva;
  • General Grass, General Welsh, General Milley, Admiral Richardson, General Neller, Admiral Zukunft, all your spouses, guests, and other distinguished leaders of DoD and the military services;
  • Former VA Administrator of Harry Walters;
  • Vice Admiral Norb Ryan of the Military Officers Association of America, our co-hosts for this year’s celebration, and all the representatives of our other Veteran Service Organizations;
  • Fellow Veterans, members of our Armed Forces, VA colleagues, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

As many of you may know, President Obama is scheduled to present the Medal of Honor to an American Soldier tomorrow—Captain Florent Groberg. Tomorrow’s ceremony will mark only the tenth time a living service member has received our Nation’s highest valor award for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Seven more were posthumously awarded the medal.

At tomorrow’s ceremony, President Obama will address the specifics of Captain Groberg’s heroism. But let me say that in the worst of circumstances, and without hesitation, Captain Groberg acted in a manner that saved the lives of many of his comrades.

Tragically, he could not save them all.

When he was informed last month that he would receive the Medal of Honor, he said, “This medal belongs to them. It is my mission to tell everyone, ‘Thank you for recognizing me, but this does not belong to me. It belongs to them.’ That’s how I’m coping with it mentally. This gives me an opportunity to represent them and their families.”

Captain Groberg is emblematic of the service and sacrifices of young men and women from every generation of American Veterans.

For almost two and a half centuries now, they have selflessly answered the calls to arms to preserve and defend the ideas behind the words that are both vision and conscience for our democracy: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Each generation has done its part to deliver a strong and free America to the next generation. They have done so with great determination, personal toughness, and a willingness to risk it all for others.

This Veterans Day, we want to especially acknowledge those who served in two difficult conflicts. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the beginning of our 50th commemoration of the decade-long war in Vietnam. To those who fought in both wars, thank you for your selfless service. Americans are ever grateful for your sacrifices.

The President and Vice President understand and value the service and sacrifice of Veterans. That’s why they’ve provided strong and increasing resources for care and benefits, support of the New GI Bill to educate the next generation of American leaders, tremendous support to help VA drive down the backlog in claims by almost 90 percent, and to improve access to quality health care for all Veterans.

As the President said in his state of the Union address this year, “. . . as a new generation of Veterans comes home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend.”

The First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden are also unwavering supporters of Veterans and Service Members in their own right. They have joined forces to bring the public and private sectors together in support of employment of Service Members, Veterans, and all of their family members, among many other initiatives.

Veterans could not ask for stronger advocates than our President, Vice President, and their wives.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great personal and professional honor to present to you our Commander-In-Chief.

Please join me in welcoming the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.