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MAY 28, 2018


Thank you, and good morning, it’s good to be with you today.  As the U.S. Maritime Administrator, it is my honor to represent Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and the U.S. Department of Transportation, and all of my shipmates at the Maritime Administration.

Scott and Charlie Uhrmann have been after me for years to come see this amazing tribute to our fallen, and participate in your annual ceremony. I always wanted to come, but something had always made my attendance problematic,  but not this year – Charlie’s perseverance and tenacity paid off, and so here I stand.

Charlie:  thanks for bringing me to this special place that you have created, to be able stand among so many brave souls.  It is magnificent.  I’ve been to memorials around the world, and you have given this community a world-class place to focus remembrance.  Well done.

To all of my fellow veterans, their families and friends who have gathered here from around the region and across the country. This is an important day of thanksgiving and remembrance we get to formally share once a year.

For us, this is not about going down to shore, buying a new car, or going to a mattress sale.

No, this is a time when set aside some special moments in our otherwise chaotic, stressed out cell phone driven lives – an hour – a day – reflecting, remembering, praying, or simply finding a few moments of peace in this troubled world.  This place helps give us that focus, and ceremonies such as this one gives us the platform from which to do so as a community.

Walking around these grounds, I was humbled to see over 3000 memorial pavers honoring veterans from every state. I know we have a number of Gold Star mothers in attendance today who have lost sons or daughters in service to their country, including one mother who lost her only son in Iraq. Thank you, moms, for your presence here today, and for so unselfishly allowing us to celebrate your son or daughters’ memory, and your family’s incredible sacrifice.

I also know there are some spouses of fallen soldiers, and their families, in attendance, from conflicts dating from World War II on up to recent campaigns.

Words are not enough to recognize and thank those who have given their lives for their country. It is the highest form of sacrifice and worthy of our praise.

I have had to console a grieving spouse on several occasions – very close friends of mine.  Several were just getting started in their lives together.  I’ve stood graveside at Arlington too many times for friends, and committed shipmates ashes to the deep from my destroyer.
Those losses left huge holes in their families’ hearts, never to be filled and impossible to fully understand unless you’ve stood in their shoes. Unless you have lost someone, a husband or wife, sister or brother, mother, father or friend, you don’t know.

Saying thank you and I’m sorry just doesn’t answer it.

I have the honor of commissioning a number of young officers every year at graduation time.   Two weeks ago I was up in Castine, Maine to commission 11 young men and woman from Maine Maritime Academy who were graduating and going on active duty in the navy.

Before administering the oath, I always say a few words to the new officers and their proud families who are gathered.  I usually don’t sugar coat it, and give it to them straight.

I tell them that when they raise their right hand and swear that oath to protect and defend the constitution, they are in effect signing a check made payable to the people of the United States… except the “amount” is blank. That’s because that amount could be their minimum service requirement of 8 years, it could be a 20-year career, or longer.  That amount could also be their lives. Today, we are remembering men and women who filled in the amount with “my life.”

So let me pause here again and salute all veterans of our armed forces – living or deceased — for your service and your sacrifice.

The service members we honor today indeed laid down their lives, and even if we didn’t know them, they were our brothers, and sisters, and friends. They came from all walks of life and possessed something special, a hard-to-define quality that empowered them to serve a cause greater than themselves.

Each of them possessed courage, dedication to duty, determination, and pride in one’s country. And while millions of Americans have fought and died on battlefields here and abroad to defend our liberty, we continue to see brave men and women voluntarily stepping forward from among their peers to say “send me.”

And thank God that they do.

Our former president Ronald Reagan captured it really well when he said: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.  It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended by each succeeding generation.”
That brand of valor is rare in this world, which makes their sacrifice – and the debt we owe them – all the greater.
I spent many years in the Navy, serving aboard some magnificent vessels alongside many fine men and women. I’ve often seen this kind of selfless sacrifice – this brand of valor — and it never ceases to stir my heart.  I was in New York City for Fleet Week just this past week, and got to be with our current sailors and Marines.  I was so proud to hear the right words coming out of their mouths about serving our nation.

You heard in my bio that I spent most of my 34-year Navy career at sea.  Well, the seed for my extensive sea time was planted as a boy in a 21-foot  Chris Craft sea skiff named “the Arc.”  Scott Uhrmann’s father – Skip Uhrmann – used to load up that boat with the Uhrmann kids and the Buzby boys and embark on epic fishing expeditions in the back bays around Somers Point and Ocean City.  They were ocean voyages to me.

And I would tell you here today that more than just fish got hooked on those seagoing adventures, because that’s where it all started for me. Uncle Skip: thanks for giving me my start; who could have ever dreamed that we’d end up here today?  Thank you sir!

And I guess that’s the final observation I’d offer here this morning; the example we set for those young folks who are coming up.  It has been reinforced to me so many times over the years: never ever underestimate the impact you can make on another person, especially someone who is just beginning to make their way in life.

Someone very influential impacted the decision to serve for all of those who we are remembering here this morning.  They may have not even known they were doing it.

I’m not sure even Skip Urhmann realized that he was preparing a young boy to be a Navy Admiral and leader of the U.S. Merchant Marine.  But I can tell you that he sure made a difference in my life.

Folks, as we conclude our remembrances and depart here today, let’s take with us the special memories of those who paid the ultimate price, and honor them in a real and tangible way by investing in the next generation who might be willing to stand up, step forward, and say “send me” — to be this generation’s guarantor of freedom for us all.  Sometimes, all that’s required is just taking a few minutes to talk to a young person, or exposing them to an experience they might not otherwise get.

Like going out in a boat…….

So once again, allow me to salute you all –veterans of our Armed Forces and their families — for your service… for your commitment. And thank you to those who are with us today in spirit alone, having given their lives in noble service.

God bless you all, and may God continue to bless our nation.

Updated: Monday, November 19, 2018