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SPEECH | May 26, 2016

Memorial Day Ceremony remarks by Gen. Vincent K. Brooks

Good afternoon and annyeong hashimnikka!

          The rain may dampen our clothing, but on a day like this it will never dampen our spirits

Ambassador Jan Grevstad of Norway, Ambassador Charles Hay of the United Kingdom, former Ambassador and General-Retired Han Chul Soo, Director Park Jong Wang of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Mr. Napsey of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Excellencies and members of the diplomatic corps; fellow flag officers; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen; Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; and especially among us, those who have served and do serve, and their families,

Thank you for joining us today on Knight Field together to commemorate Memorial Day...a day to remember those sacrificed their lives while serving their country. 

Let me first thank the troops on the field representing today’s generation, the United Nations Command Honor Guard, the Eighth Army Band, and the Second Infantry Division Salute Battery for your outstanding performance today, we thank you very much for your excellence.

And, to our representatives from MPVA and the ROK-U.S. friendship organizations, thank you for taking the time to attend today’s ceremony and for being part of our history. 

We have gathered today to commemorate Memorial Day.  From one generation to the next the question is periodically asked, “Why do we dedicate a day to honor those who have fallen during wars of the past?”

In response to this question in 1884, United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., himself a veteran of the Civil War in the United States, provided an answer that is still fitting today. 

He said, “Today celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith.” 

“It embodies, in the most impressive form, our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly.”

“And we can hardly share the emotions that make this day to us the most sacred day of the year – and embody them in ceremonial pomp, without in some degree imparting those emotions to those who come after us.” End quote.

Mister Justice Holmes described the true meaning of Memorial Day, to remind each generation of the sacrifices made by those who came before us, and to demonstrate the belief in the selfless action for the greater good.  And, to inspire in each of us to strive for the values that we hold dear; the values we are willing to fight for, and if necessary, to defend to our last breath.

We remember their sacrifice and we honor their determination and courage.  We look within ourselves to find the same and to seek inspiration to face uncertainty and danger. 

We repeat their stories as the illustrations of that which is best within each of us, and the actions of the best among us…the stories of people like us today, who served in Korea and while here gave their last full measure of devotion.  Allow me to share some of their stories with you. 

Like the story of U.S. Air Force P-51 pilot Major Louis Sebille, who on August 5th, 1950, attacked a concentration of enemy troops, artillery, and armored vehicles. 

As he bore down on the enemy, his aircraft was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire.  Realizing that he could only remain airborne a short period, he ignored the possibility of survival and continued his attack. 

Major Sebille again exposed himself to the intense fire of the enemy and dived on the target to his death, and theirs.  . . .

Or U.S. Marine Corps Private First Class Stanley Christianson, who gave his life here in Seoul on Hill 132, which as it was referred to then, 1 mile north of Namsan Mountain, on September 29th, 1950. 

When he was manning a listening post that was attacked by overwhelming numbers, he sent a fellow marine to alert his position.  Knowing he would not survive, he remained in his position and fired relentlessly at the enemy killing seven attackers until he was fatally struck. 

His sacrifice provided time for his unit to repel the attack, killing more than 41 enemy, and delivering victory in that fight to his unit. 

Or U.S. Navy Hospitalman Third Class Richard De Wert, who on April 5th, 1951 while serving with the 7th Marines, rushed into danger to provide medical aid to a fire team pinned down by the enemy.  He incurred a leg wound while dragging a stricken Marine to safety.  Refusing medical care, he immediately dashed back to carry a second wounded man. 

Undaunted by the mounting hail of bullets, he moved back a third time and received another wound, this time in the shoulder. 

Still refusing aid while responding to the loud call of duty, he went back a fourth time, and while rendering aid, was mortally wounded by enemy fire.

He was not concerned for his personal safety but rather for the accomplishment of his assigned duty. 

Perhaps we will remember that Americans were not by themselves on the battlefields of Korea or in the years that followed.

Philippine Captain Conrado Yap, a company commander in the Philippine Expeditionary Force a U.N. Sending State force was conducting defensive operations to support the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division during the Battle of Yultong on April 22nd, 1951. 

Upon being informed that a superior number of enemy were advancing on his position, Captain Yap ordered his unit to hold their ground at all costs. 

After receiving a report that the enemy had already captured his forward unit, he personally led the counterattack to regain the position despite receiving the authority to withdraw. 

He succeeded in recovering the bodies of four comrades, and then assaulted another enemy emplacement when enemy fire took his life. But his actions were vital as they enabled the Third Infantry Division to withdraw without being cutoff. 

Captain Yap received the Philippine Medal for Valor for his actions and his legacy continues in the hearts of his countrymen who serve today.

Another example of a sending state inspiration is British Lieutenant Philip Curtis, who gave his life on Gloucester Hill during the Battle of the Imjin River on April 23rd, 1951. 

The enemy attacked and seized a nearby position and Lieutenant Curtis’ platoon was ordered to retake it. 

As they met heavy resistance, Lieutenant Curtis ordered his men to provide covering fire while he assaulted the main point of resistance himself. 

As he moved forward, he was severely wounded and thrown back by an enemy grenade.  His men recovered him, and with disregard for himself, he made a second attempt, hurling grenades as he moved forward.  Within a few yards of his objective, he was hit by a fatal burst of fire. 

His sacrifice inspired others and their efforts prevented the enemy from further advancing into the British area of operations. 

He received the Victoria Cross for his actions, and his service is worthy of our remembrance.

Then there is the ferocious fighting spirit of U.S. Army Private First Class Herbert Pililaau, who gave his life on September 17th, 1951 on Heartbreak Ridge to the east. 

Valiantly defending its position, his unit was ordered to withdraw after expending almost all of its ammunition.  Voluntarily remaining behind to cover the withdrawal, PFC Pililaau fought until all his ammunition was exhausted and then engaged in hand-to-hand combat until finally overcome and mortally wounded.

When the position was retaken, more than 40 enemy lay dead in the area he had defended.  His indomitable fighting spirit and gallant self-sacrifice inspires us to never quit.

And let us not forget the sacrifices and inspirational examples of our Korean teammates.

Like Korean Second Lieutenant Chung Nak Koo [ 낙구] during the Battle of White Horse Mountain in the Chorwon Valley on October 13th, 1952. 

His platoon was ordered to retake the outpost ridge line on Hill 395, northwest of, and dominating the terrain in the Chorwon Valley.

The enemy, well-entrenched and capable of directing accurate and devastating fire, immediately pinned down Lieutenant Chung’s unit as they began their assault. 

However, Lieutenant Chung continued forward and his courage motivated three of his men to follow him. 

He continued his advance to a machine-gun bunker, hurled grenades into the position and silenced the gun, but lost his life.

Members of the platoon, so inspired by his actions, immediately assaulted the position, accomplished of the mission of the unit, and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. 

He received the united states distinguished service cross for his courageous actions, and his story lives today as an example of the bravery of the ROK soldier.  . . .

There are too many stories to tell and they are reflected in each line of the books of remembrance laid on the table before us, and in each of the service songs we will hear played in a few minutes. 

I would love to tell you every story, but i will end with one last story, a more recent one that reminds us of why we remain ready, and what may be asked of us in a time of testing.

This is the story of two young marines from the republic of Korea, who were doing their duty on the island of Yeonpyeong, when North Korea fired upon the island and took their lives on November 23rd, 2010. 

Sergeant Seo Jeong Woo [서정우] and Private First Class Moon Kwan Wook [문광욱] both knew they stood on freedom’s frontier, in the face of danger, and they did so willingly and with pride.  They knew they were protecting the freedom won and preserved by these warriors I have previously described.  Their ultimate sacrifice while they did their duty inspires us to do our duty, and to remember them.

Thank you for your patience as I told these stories.  That is what today is about.  And these are only a representative sampling of the numerous sources of inspiration contained in the books of remembrance.

Let us in our commemorations today, and in the service we perform every day, celebrate their enthusiasm and faith to their nations and their fellow countrymen. 

As Mister Justice Holmes closed that Memorial Day speech in 1884, he said, “Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death--of life to which their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring.  As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.” End quote

So today, as the cannons fire a Twenty One Gun Salute and as the trumpets play the mournful notes of Taps, let us find meaning and inspiration in the sounds.  For they salute our brave warriors who have found eternal rest and filled our hearts with fire. 

Kamsahamnida, katchi kapshida!

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