WASHINGTON -- I am pleased to join millions of Americans in honoring the brave men and women in uniform -- those who serve today, those who have fallen in battle, and those veterans who proudly served in the past.
My father volunteered to serve in the Navy after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Millions enlisted to battle against the tide of tyranny then threatening the world. And I was privileged to serve in the Navy some 50 years ago. Now, more than 50 years later, I count my time in uniform as a most important period in my life. Thousands, if not millions, of others who have served undoubtedly feel the same way.
Military service has always been one of our country's most noble callings. America has long been the defender of liberty -- the country that has stepped forward to defend those who could not defend themselves. This was true from our country's early days at Lexington and Concord, where the earliest citizen soldiers defended their farms and homes, their new country, and the cause of freedom.
In the years that followed, the U.S. armed forces have become freedom's champion -- at Gettysburg; in the forest of the Argonne; on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima; in the air during the Berlin blockade; and today in places like Kabul and Baghdad.
This new war we face has required our military to adapt its thinking, and challenged us to prepare in new ways. Yet whatever the mission, whatever the challenge that lies before us, each of you who are serving our country are confronting it with grit and courage. I thank each of you and your families for your service to our country.
When my father passed away some 30 years ago, I found a letter in his papers that he had received from then secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal -- who later became the first secretary of defense. Secretary Forrestal apparently sent this letter to all those who served to arrive after they had returned to civilian life. Noting the historic achievements made by the U.S. military, he wrote: "You have served in the greatest Navy in the world. ... It crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving their surrenders only four months apart. It brought our land-based air power within bombing range of the enemy and set our ground armies on the beachheads of final victory. ... For your part in these achievements you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The nation you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude."
That letter to my father now hangs on my office wall in the Pentagon. It is a reminder to me of our country's fighting spirit. And I see that same spirit in the actions of the men and women in uniform every day. It is that spirit that we honor on this holiday: the selfless duty and devotion passed down from generations who served before, and the courage of those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country.
Our country is proud of every member of our armed forces -- volunteers all -- and we are deeply grateful to those who have sacrificed for the cause of liberty. May God bless each of you, may God bless your families, and may God bless our wonderful country.