Memorial Day 2016
May, 30th 2016
Ladies and gentlemen, Gold star family members, men and women who have served and are here today representing family members who have served our country, and have sacrificed in many different ways. Director Snead, thank you for your service as head of the Arkansas department of veterans affairs and for making sure that this event that we have for our families is strong, it is continuous, and it is memorable, because this is a day of remembrance. It is a day to remember and enjoy the blessings of liberty.
We are here today, but because of the sacrifice of so many, others get to go to the lake, others have picnics. We enjoy this weekend. And that’s fine. That is good because those are the freedoms and the joys of life that those that we honor today have sacrificed for. A time for family, a time to do those things that we cherish. But we have to remember something else, and that is, that the joys and freedoms of life comes through the sacrifice of others.
A couple of weeks ago, I was with Gary Sinise, the lieutenant who played in the movie Forest Gump, and who is now a national leader of raising money for veterans and honoring our veterans across the country. On this occasion in Northwest Arkansas, we are honoring 11 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. They are from out of state because all of our Congressional Medal of Honor recipients have died here in the state of Arkansas. We have none that are living with us today.
But we do have the stories of those Arkansas heroes that are important to remember.
During WWII on March 3rd 1945 Arkansas Jack Williams was on the island of Iwo Jima with the 3rd battalion. Seeing a fellow marine wounded by a grenade on the frontlines of battle, Williams braved enemy fire and ran to assist the wounded marine, shielding the man with his body while dressing his wounds. As he assisted the soldier, Williams was shot four times. He paid no attention to his own injuries but instead finished helping the man and rushed to the aid of another marine in need. It was then that he was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness that day. Jack Williams was an Arkansan.
On April 25 1951, Charles Gililand from Yellville, Arkansas was serving in Korea with company 1, his company came under attack and they were greatly outnumbered but Gililand refused to give up. He had held a strong defensive position and fired continuously at the enemy line even after suffering a severe head injury. Gililand stayed behind to provide covering fire as the rest of his company retreated. He was never seen again. Just one month before his 18th birthday, his family was presented with his Medal of Honor. He was an Arkansan.
On March 17 2010, Chief Petty Officer Adam Brown, Hot Springs native, and Browns special ops assault team was engaged in an enemy fire fight in Komar Province, Afghanistan. The enemy fire pinned down many of Chief Petty Officer Brown’s fellow soldiers until he made the selfless decision to charge the enemy, drawing the fire from his comrades. Chief Petty Officer Brown saved their lives by sacrificing his own that day. And it should be noted that Brown was known to carry an Arkansas flag with him, tucking it away between his uniform and his body armor when he went into battle. He was an Arkansan.
Jack Williams, Charles Gililand, and Adam Brown are just 3 out of hundreds of thousands who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom by laying their lives down for our country. And now it becomes our responsibility to tell their stories, honoring their service, and honoring their sacrifice.
But there is a war I have not mentioned. It is a war of my generation, the Vietnam War. This week we are reminded of the heroic story of Army Ranger Staff Sergeant Harold George Bennett of Perry County Arkansas. On December 29, 1964 he was one of 3 Americans captured by the Vietcong after Sergeant Bennett radioed his comrades and told them it was too dangerous to attempt a rescue by helicopter. He was killed in captivity after repeatedly trying to escape. In 2004, Bennett was inducted to the U.S. Ranger Hall of Fame and has been awarded the Silver Star.
I want to acknowledge Congressman French Hill who this last week on the floor of the House of Representatives, received the recognition for Harold George Bennett by honoring him with the naming of the post office in Perryville in his honor. Thank you congressman Hill for outlining and illustrating the heroic efforts of Mr. Bennett and the other Arkansans. Thank you, Congressman.
General George Patton always said things in a way that was not too politically correct. George S. Patton who led the third army during WWII said as only he could say it, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
And so we should remember the freedoms and their sacrifice, but there is something else that we should remember today. And that is that we live in a dangerous and unstable world and the men and women who serve in our military are still needed. You think about Isis and Iraq and Syria. You look at the global war on terrorism, and the threats it poses abroad and at home. You look at an unstable North Korea. Today as much as any time in history, we need to remember the men and women who are on the front line of our armed forces. And thank them for their service, and be grateful for their sacrifice.
I mentioned that I was with the 11 living Medal of Honor recipients in North West Arkansas. I want to end with a story that I researched as I was going to speak to them, and it is a story of Bill Crawford.
Bill Crawford was a janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He was a janitor. The cadets would come and go, sometimes they would say good morning, sometimes he would respond with good morning as he went about his janitorial work and cleaning, and straightening up in the dormitory. One evening a cadet was studying WWII history and he came across a recognition and story of Bill Crawford. A Bill Crawford, who through his courageous act, saved many lives and extraordinary deeds of heroism allowed him to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. He turned to his fellow cadets and said, hey guys, I think our janitor might be a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. They couldn’t believe it. They went out and they found Bill Crawford the janitor and said, are you the Bill Crawford that was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor? And he said, I am that Bill Crawford. They asked him, why is it that you never told us that you won this award? And he replied and said, it was simply a moment in time, a long time ago.
And what that reminds us is, that acts of heroism crosses time, crosses a moment in time, and what each of us might not have that moment in time where we can demonstrate extraordinary acts of bravery, we all have that moment in time because of what others have given and sacrificed for us. Let us cherish that moment in time. Let us use that moment in time to enhance freedom, to enjoy life, to say thank you to our neighbors, to honor our veterans and those who have served, and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Ladies and gentlemen, what will you do with your moment in time?
Thank you, and God Bless the United States of America.