To all of you, veterans and non-veterans alike, I join you in remembrance of those who made such tremendous sacrifices for our country. Even more than sacrificing for our country, our veterans gave so much of themselves - hundreds of thousands even giving their lives - for the cause of freedom.
Today, I recall my friend, Mike Christensen. Mike was truly an all-American type of young man - extremely bright, courteous and liked by everyone. He was an exemplary son to his two proud parents, a beloved brother, and an admired friend.
M.C., as we called him, wanted to be an astronaut, so he joined the Air Force. He ended up paying the ultimate price for his country. Mike, who was raised in Ogden and attended the University of Utah, was shot down over Vietnam and is still listed as missing in action.
How many other servicemen and women have given their lives for our country - and for the cause of peace - during times of war? Some 116,000 Americans died in World War I. In World War II, more than 400,000 perished. Korea claimed 54,000; 58,000 died in the Vietnam War, and many others have made the ultimate sacrifice in other conflicts around the world. In addition, millions more were seriously injured, including many who lost limbs or contracted debilitating diseases.
Memorial Day is much more than a day off from work, or a welcome start to summer. It is also more than a time to pay tribute to, and to thank, the brave men, like my friend M.C., and women who have given so much to serve our nation with honor and to protect our freedoms. Memorial Day should also be a day that we re-commit ourselves to the cause of freedom - not only in our communities and our nation, but throughout the world.
Too many in our country - particularly our young people, unfortunately - take our freedoms for granted. They do not know how much was given by so many in order that the citizens of our country - and of much of the world - can speak out freely, worship freely, be treated with equality under the law, and be free from abuses by governmental agents.
By remembering those who have served our country for the cause of freedom, we are also reminded that the fight for freedom is not an obligation reserved for our soldiers. We can best pay tribute to our veterans by going beyond mere words. Let our actions show our commitment to the legacy of those who have served so honorably - and selflessly.
We can each serve the cause of freedom in many ways. When we witness anyone trying to interfere with the communication of ideas, regardless of how abhorrent those ideas may be to us, we can stand up for the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is no freedom at all if it is reserved exclusively for those whose ideas conform to our own.
We can each serve the cause of freedom when we insist that all children, regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or the economic status of their family and neighborhood, obtain an excellent education, equipping them for equal opportunities in the job market and an equal voice in our democracy.
We can each serve the cause of freedom when we lend a helping hand to those most in need, regardless of what led them to their present circumstances. We can make certain that basic human rights are afforded those in our jails and prisons; we can work to help the homeless, many of whom suffer from mental illness; and we can support those organizations that work so hard to preserve our constitutional rights and freedoms - and to make certain that fundamental human rights are observed by governments throughout the world.
Finally, we can teach our children well. We can teach them of the threats to democracy and to our freedoms that our country has faced so many times - and of the threats that still exist. We can teach them of the tremendous sacrifices made by so many in order to pass on to later generations the freedoms that millions in the world today are still denied. And we can teach our children, primarily through our own example, of their responsibilities to help those who have not had the same opportunities in life - and to courageously speak up whenever another's human rights are violated. Those rights - like the rights guaranteed by our Bill of Rights - are nothing more than nice sentiments unless we are willing to challenge those who would violate them.
Today, let us commit to demonstrate, through our actions, our gratitude to those who have left a legacy of service, of sacrifice, and of freedom.
I swore long ago that M.C. will not have died in vain. Although Saigon fell to the communists in 1975, M.C.'s valor and commitment to his country and the cause of freedom will always be an inspiration to me, even when exhausted and frustrated, to keep on working in service to others - and for the cause of freedom.
I congratulate all of you for honoring our veterans today, and for remembering all that has been sacrificed for our great country and for the eternal cause of freedom. And I congratulate you for your continuing work in the service of others, the service of your country, and the service of freedom.