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Memorial Day: Remembering our heroes

Gen. Gary North, Pacific Air Forces Commander

Gen. Gary North, Pacific Air Forces Commander

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- Airmen and their families who live and serve in the Pacific are surrounded by tangible reminders of the legacy of preceding generations. Our command's headquarters still bears the scars left by enemy weaponry during the attack on Hickam and Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II.

On Guam, monuments to the fierce fighting of that era are scattered about the island, and the bomber and fighter units who deploy to and rotate through there echo the commitment of previous Airmen who flew, fought and died in the skies over Korea and Vietnam. Airmen in South Korea today stand watch with our friends over an uneasy armistice, while their counterparts in Japan are a constant testament to the strong ties forged after the Second World War.

During a Pearl Harbor memorial ceremony last December, I had the privilege and honor of sitting with 30 survivors who returned for the remembrance ceremony - some of them for the very first time. We were at the Kilo Pier across from where the Arizona rests today - a vitally important reminder of our requirement to always be ever vigilant in today's world.

The somber look of those warriors as they thought back to that day and stared across the expanse of Pearl Harbor serves as an important reminder of those who have served and gone before us. We must never forget our fallen comrades, and we must never forget our way of life comes at a great cost ... to our military members and their families.

As we honor our fallen heroes this Memorial Day, the world faces a threat very different from those of the past. The shock and grief of 9/11 was this generation's Pearl Harbor, and since that day more than 5,400 Americans have given their lives in defense of our freedoms. They join the ranks of more than a million American service members who have died in the service of the United States since the start of our American Revolution.

When he dedicated the battlefield at Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln spoke of the inadequacy of words to describe what happened there. He said: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Words alone will never do justice to the sacrifices made by so few for so many to keep America free.

This Memorial Day weekend, I ask you to take time simply to remember our fallen heroes and their families. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers, talk about their sacrifices with your family and friends, and realize we are able to enjoy our way of life and our freedoms because of their sacrifice. I can think of no better way to show our gratitude and respect than to honor their service.

I am proud of the work being performed by our great PACAF Airmen every day in our AOR and throughout the world. Have a safe Memorial Day and take care of yourselves, your family and our greater Air Force and joint military families so we can continue to Fly, Fight and Win ... in air, space and cyberspace. Happy Memorial Day!