Capt. Ron Henderson's Memorial Day message to his troops, Memorial Day 2002:
On board John F KENNEDY, Air Wing SEVEN, Destroyer Squadron 50, and Carrier Group SIX, good afternoon. Today is Memorial Day, the day we pause and honor our sacred dead – those who have perished in honorable service to ensure that freedom endures. Today, all across America, our friends and families are enjoying a long weekend, the end of the school year, the end of Spring, and the start of Summer. They go to car races and ball games. They enjoy time off from work. They mow the lawn, trim the garden, or celebrate with a family barbeque. Mostly, they are free to do whatever they want to do, in a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal in the eyes of God, where a person is free to write, speak, vote, and worship as he sees fit.
Our families enjoy these freedoms because they have been bought and paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of American servicemen and women. Our friends and families are enjoying a pleasant weekend because men and women like us have repeatedly been willing to place ourselves in harm’s way. This is fitting and proper – we stand the watch today, to ensure these freedoms for our children tomorrow. To honor our heroes we pause today for a few moments of remembrance. We tell the stories of American patriots who have fallen in our wars, and these stories are many – too many to recount here.
Two hundred ninety-two thousand Americans were killed in World War Two. The Greatest Generation, who faced the Panzers and the Kamikazes, who fought and died to make the World we enjoy today, they are quickly passing from our view. We listen to their stories in awe and reverence at the depth of their conviction and the commitment of their sacrifice. More recently, 48 lives have been lost in Operation Enduring Freedom; 22 have been killed in action, 26 lost to accidents and other causes. For them, this is their first Memorial Day, in which they join the countless others who have gone before from all our conflicts, great and small. We remember Army Special Forces Sergeant Vance, ambushed on patrol trying to help Afghans, killed by an AK-47 round that freakishly found a seam in his body armor. We remember Petty Officer Neil Roberts, Navy SEAL, who died fighting alone on a ridge in Afghanistan which will forever more be called, “Roberts Ridge”. We remember our own LCDR Chris Blaschum, who died when his jet failed him at the worst possible time. He was the best we had, and we shall never forget him or his sacrifice. These and other heroes gave us everything they had, and so in our hearts they will remain forever young, while Freedom grows gracefully old.
So these and other tales are told; and we are left with a debt. We have a debt not just to preserve the memories of the honored dead, but to live fully the lives they have made possible for us who remain. Memorial Day is a time to exercise our custodianship of the memories of our fallen, and to reaffirm our dedication to the country for which they fought and died. It is a time to reflect on what it means to be an American, and to ask ourselves if we honor their memory not only this day, but every day.
We will now honor our fallen comrades with a moment of silence, the playing of taps, and an Air Wing fly-by in the missing man formation. Please join me in the silence of your deep and abiding respect.