Mat-Su: Alaska Veterans Memorial Day Ceremony, Byers Lake

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Hello to everyone. What a great day to be here at Byer's Lake. This is such a fitting venue for reflection on Memorial Day, and I'm honored to spend this time with the Alaska Vietnam Veteran's Motorcycle Club. Before I begin I need to say thank you to General Katkus for giving me a ride up here from Anchorage in one of his Blackhawk helicopters. While it's not a Harley, it's still a pretty slick ride.

Today I want to share with you my thoughts on our gift of freedom. On Memorial Day citizens across the country pause and reflect on our nation's fallen heroes. American hearts swell with pride as men and women everywhere stand just a little bit taller when hearing the National Anthem or a bugle playing taps. Our nation's service men and women remember their brothers and sisters who no longer stand in their ranks, but who remain forever in their hearts.

As a nation we must remember that with every fallen soldier there is a family left behind and a life story with many chapters left forever unwritten. It can be a difficult day for many of those families, and our nation owes them our recognition and respect. We must always remember that their son, daughter, husband, wife, father or mother in a very real way left us a gift. They answered the call of our nation and gave all they had to give in order to protect our gift of freedom.

Think about that for a moment. In the last hundred years the world has seen the rise of many who would like nothing more than to steal that freedom away and plunder our national treasure. From the fields of Western Europe to the distant shores of the Pacific, from Communist expansion in Indochina to the epicenter of the global jihad, our gift of freedom has endured challenge after challenge, and still we stand here today as free people. Freedom has prevailed, but it has done so at a very high cost, a cost borne by the fallen and those they prematurely left behind.

On Memorial Day, we remember those men and women who courageously went to war but never returned home. We can, and we should, solemnly honor their memory and remember their courageous lives, but we might also reach out to the families, friends, and fellow soldiers, like you gathered here today, who were left behind and express our gratitude. Our nation recognizes your sacrifice, grieves for your loss, and forever honors your dedicated service.

We can and we should learn from our fallen sons and daughters. For them service meant accepting the risk that they might not get to enjoy the gift of freedom their service protects. They selflessly chose to serve anyway. For the fallen, honor meant the privilege of wearing a U.S. military uniform and earning the respect that it garners around the world despite the risk that it might make them a target for those who mean us harm. For them selflessness meant answering a call for help from a fellow soldier, without hesitation, even if chances were high that it would be their final act.

These timeless qualities of service, honor, respect, and selflessness form the bedrock of military service in a free society. Today we remember and we honor those who lived according to these principles so that we might gather today as free people under the umbrella of protection that their brothers and sisters continue to provide around the world today.

Often quoted is our Declaration of Independence that proclaims "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It is those who have answered that call to service who ensured that our gift of freedom is not only unalienable, it is also enduring.

It's appropriate that on Memorial Day we should set aside our differences and unite as Americans - a unified nation with one common voice. Let us celebrate that we are a free nation, a proud nation, a nation guided by principles and universal truths. And though we may disagree on many things, we do so peacefully and lawfully from town hall meetings to the floor of the Senate. Even in tough times such as these we remain a beacon of light around the world for those who can only imagine a life of freedom as they struggle to survive under the grip of tyranny and oppression. Today we remember the men and women who kept that beacon lit and reflect on the gravity of their sacrifice.

Before I close I want to thank all of you for your courageous service alongside those we remember today. Thank you for the gift of freedom. Memorial Day is one of America's most important holidays, and it is an honor to share it's observance with you in one of the most beautiful places in Alaska. Thank you for all that you've done and continue to do, and thank you for inviting me to be with you here today.

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