The Colonel was invited to speak at his adopted hometown's (Abbeville, Mississippi) Veterans Memorial unveiling on Saturday. Text of remarks below:
"Mayor Fricker, Aldermen, distinguished guests, residents and friends of Abbeville, I am honored and humbled to be allowed to speak on this occasion and I thank you all for your attendance.
Our great Republic owes its greatness to its people. Generations of Americans have thrived under the rights and freedoms granted by our Creator and guaranteed under our Constitution. And, in each generation, a small percentage of men and women step forward and pledge their lives to the defense of that Constitution and our Republic’s freedom.
That there have been and continue to be young men and women who voluntarily answer their nation’s call to service in its military is an amazing and uniquely American phenomenon. In my nearly three decades in uniform, I had the opportunity to work and train with the soldiers from dozens of other nations. Almost all were conscripted. Almost all, while performing their duties competently, served not so much out of a sense of loving obligation to their countries but more because they were forced to serve – almost like a sort of prison sentence.
Now, don’t get me wrong, American service men and women are consummate complainers. The Marines with whom I served elevated this complaining to the status of a high art. But, of all of the soldiers of all of the nations with whom I have served, none rise to a challenge like Americans.
Small towns like our own seem to provide a disproportionate share of these patriots. And small towns like our own seem to take a greater pride in the service of our patriots. Small town Mississippians stand particularly tall in the military history of our nation.
One hundred years ago, our nation was gearing up to send a million men to fight in France. A Mississippian from Slate Spring, then Colonel Fox Conner was the man in charge of putting together the plan that, from a standing start, would eventually field fifty American divisions in France and break the stalemate against the Germans. Fox Conner would go on to be the mentor of three great American generals – Patton, Marshall, and Eisenhower.
Seventy-three years ago, another great small town Mississippian, then Marine Captain Louis H. Wilson, was leading his rifle company against Japanese defenders on the island of Guam. His courageous front-line leadership earned him grievous wounds, and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Wilson became the Commandant, the four-star general in charge of the Marine Corps, in the early ‘70s and is credited with leading the the fight to modernize the Marine Corps.
Fifty-two years ago, during the fierce battle in Vietnam that was depicted in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” a soldier from Neely, Mississippi bravely flew his helicopter into a buzz saw of enemy fire, not once or twice, but fourteen different times to deliver ammunition and evacuate critically wounded soldiers. Ed Freeman was credited with saving the lives of scores of soldiers and awarded the Medal of Honor.
But here’s the thing about those three great American military men from Mississippi: they were all career soldiers. In a way, their service was easy. I can say that because I was a career Marine. I don’t view my three decades in uniform as a sacrifice. My family might, but I don’t. From the moment a man or woman decides to make the military a career, the military becomes home. The military becomes your life. I believe that it is a far greater sacrifice to put your life on hold for four years, serve in the military, and then go home and start all over again. Those men and women are the real heroes.
Among us today, are some of those unsung heroes. Men and women who swore an irrevocable oath to place their lives on the line. But, also among us are those whose job, while maybe not as dangerous, was just as sacrificial. Among us are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors, of those who went off to fight.
We gather today, certainly to honor our veterans, but also to recognize every sacrifice in the name of freedom.