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UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Mr. Ambassador, distinguished guests, honored veterans, servicemembers, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor and a pleasure to be here with you on this important occasion.

What we celebrate today as Memorial Day began just three short years after the end of the Civil War.  It was originally established as “Decoration Day” and served to honor fallen soldiers by decorating their final resting places with newly bloomed May flowers and that “dear old flag they saved.”  We are proud to continue that solemn tradition today.

I think those men and women who, so long ago, championed this day of remembrance knew what they were doing when they chose this time of year to honor the fallen.  It is a time of renewal and strength after a long winter.  Amidst millions of flowers in bloom, we remember those lost in battles on almost every continent around the globe in defense of freedom and tell their stories to the American people so they can pass their legacy on to the children of tomorrow.

This is a moment to talk about heroism and sacrifice, and if you flip through our nation’s history books you will be inundated with accounts of bravery that still resonate deep within us decades or years later.  We are humbled by the tremendous courage shown by our brave sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who have stood up for freedom and democratic values throughout our history, from Bunker Hill to Guadalcanal to Abbey Gate.  There is no doubt that our service members have earned their deserved reputation as the finest fighting force in the world – both in strength and in character.  That’s why it’s important – in fact imperative – that we remember them always.

Today is a day that all Americans, young and old, focus our attention on our Veterans lost in service, from the revolution that marked the beginning of our republic right up to the present day.  We honor them for their patriotism and their willingness to serve our country and sacrifice for the common good in pursuit of a more perfect union.  It is because of their sacrifices that we as Americans enjoy this opportunity to assemble here today as a free people:  free to practice our freedom of speech and religion, free to love whom we love, and free to enjoy our constitutional rights.

Let us honor them by renewing our commitment to the project of making our great nation a place where all can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Let us recommit to ambitious and innovative diplomacy that builds a more free, open, secure, and prosperous world and keeps our troops out of harm’s way.  We owe this to those who gave their lives fighting for these freedoms and way of life, to their loved ones, and to those who continue to fight to this day to protect the same.  On this day, let us pay tribute to the memory and service of the Veterans who are no longer with us and never forget that they gave the last full measure of devotion for our country and embody the very best of America.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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