Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
November 11, 2022
Secretary Hagel, thank you for that kind introduction. You all know Chuck Hagel by a lot of titles: Senator, Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of VA, and a highly successful business leader.
The titles I know he values most—and which I think describe him best—are Vietnam Veteran and Sergeant.
Secretary Hagel, since that day you and your brother enlisted to serve in Vietnam, you’ve always answered the call to serve.
Welcome home and thank you.
Secretary Austin; Gold Star Mother Ann Sherman-Wolcott [Former National President of American Gold Star Mothers]; Veterans and Members of our Armed Forces; Veterans Service Organizations; Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; and most
importantly, Vietnam Veterans and their families:
It is an honor to be here with you on this Veterans Day to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the dedication of the wall—an enduring, living monument dedicated to remembering the 58,281 brave men and women who died in Vietnam.
Chiseled into the polished black granite and etched into the history of our nation are the names of those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who “answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met,” and gave, in the words of President Lincoln, the “last full measure of devotion” to our nation.
For decades, those names have taught us the importance of remembering the stories of valor and sacrifice of the warriors of Vietnam.
Stories like 18-year-old Corporal Rex Sherman who enlisted in the Army as a 17-year-old high school senior.
Corporal Sherman was mortally wounded while trying to deliver captured enemy documents to a waiting helicopter and is memorialized on Panel 16W, Line 96 of The Wall.
His mom, former National President of American Gold Star Mothers, is with us today. Ms. Wolcott: The nation acknowledges and honors the weight you bear of the loss of your son, a hero. We will never forget him or his sacrifice.
It is an extraordinary act to put on the uniform of one’s nation, leave the safety of home, deploy to a war zone in a foreign land, and fight for the freedom of others.
Our Vietnam Veterans performed that extraordinary act during a time of great polarization and challenge at home—so much so that too few were afforded an appropriate homecoming.
My predecessor at VA, General Shinseki, who knew the price of war after serving two combat tours in Vietnam and sustaining critical injuries for which he earned two Purple Hearts, once said, “All who fought in Vietnam came home changed—older than our years, tougher, more serious, no less vital—but somehow less lighthearted.”
Ten years ago, today, at another ceremony on these hallowed grounds, he described this memorial as a “time capsule of the heart.”
So, for me, the Wall is a reminder that these heroes not only answered the call to service, but they also eschewed cynicism—even when cynicism might have been justified—and joined their brothers-in-arms to fight for our country in Vietnam and then returned home to continue that fight.
No one represents that dedication to his brothers-in-arms and to this great country better than a man who returned home with memories of his fallen comrades and found a way to memorialize their names.
That man was Corporal Jan Scruggs, who—on a cold January Day in Vietnam—saw 12 of his comrades killed during the unloading of mortar rounds.
He never forgot that day … never forgot those men … never forgot their names.
Years after his service, Corporal Scruggs dreamed of a way of connecting those who remained forever young to those who will never forget them—to the families and loved ones who were left behind.
That dream is this wall. This solemn remembrance.
For 40 years, the Wall has taught generations about the power of loss and the power of love, of the power of service that Corporal Scruggs manifests, and that Vets uniquely represent.
So at this time of too much division and too much discord at home—let us rededicate ourselves, for the next 40 years, to the vision of supporting one another, as personified by Jan Scruggs. Because Vets like him—Vets like so many of you—set the example for the rest of us in this great country.
In so many ways, you’re the keepers of our national ethos, that deep and abiding sense of purpose you learned in serving—your camaraderie, your sense of teamwork that made you stronger, together—in combat and, now, in your communities.
Looking around, that's exactly what we need today.
Camaraderie. Truth. Togetherness. True service. True patriotism.
Simply put, through your service and your selflessness, you teach us and remind us of what it truly means to be an American.
And for that—and so much else—we are forever in your debt.
This wall reminds us of that. This day reminds us of that. And we will never, ever forget it.
God bless you all. Thank you.