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Memorial Day is a time to thank those who have come before

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- More than a million American service members have died in the wars and conflicts this nation fought since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for independence. Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine who died fighting in these conflicts was someone's son or daughter, father or mother or friend. Each was a loss to the nation - and each a hero.

This year, as Americans are engaged around the world in the War on Terrorism, we are especially mindful that our brothers and sisters face enemies every day and yet stand resolved to carry out their mission and keep America safe. Many will return home with pride for serving their country honorably. Others will be honored for fighting and falling in the line of duty. All these men and women have earned our gratitude and respect. They too are heroes and warriors.

Pacific Air Forces Airmen exemplify the warrior ethos. Currently, many of PACAF's finest are deployed overseas to Afghanistan and Iraq and every corner of the globe to accomplish the Air Force mission: to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. Our Airman's Creed puts it best - we are wingmen, leaders, and warriors; guardians of freedom and justice; this nation's sword, shield, sentry and avenger.

By observing Memorial Day, we strengthen a tradition dating back more than 130 years, to the aftermath of the American Civil War and the decoration of the graves of fallen soldiers. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed May 5, 1868, by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. After World War I, the observance of Memorial Day was broadened to honor those who died in all our nation's wars - and so it has continued.

This Memorial Day, we remember, we celebrate, and we thank those who have gone before us. Let them be our teachers, and we will honor their courage and sacrifice by learning from them.

I am proud to serve with you. Thank you.