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The Spirit of America - Our Veterans!

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- As I marched down the streets of Denver Nov. 11 with those service members who make our nation so proud, my message for this article came clearly to me. Those who know me will understand I have no problem talking about things, so what did I decide upon this time? Was it leadership, readiness, integrity, professionalism, standards, the wingman concept, influence, fitness or customer service? No. The fact you've more than likely heard my opinion on each of those, coupled with my own reflection over Veterans Day, guided me toward a different subject.

So, as I lengthened my stride, held my back straight and swelled with pride because of those I was in the company of, I decided to share a few thoughts about those who I believe represent the Spirit of America -- our veterans. Those warriors who resemble this spirit and the incredible sacrifices our men and women make each and every day as you, like so many before, continue to demonstrate this spirit.

I'll start by asking this. Do you ever rise in the morning and wonder what you would be waking up to as a citizen of another country? As Americans, we are blessed to be a part of the most prosperous society in the world. Defined by a capitalist economy, with democracy as our foundation, we have grown into the most powerful nation in the world. More pointedly, due to our commitment to advance air, space, sea and land power from humble beginnings we stand today as the most capable military force on the planet.

However, to transform into the 21st century, we will continue to integrate our operations and improve technology. But, I ask, is it technology that serves as the source of the Spirit of America? I say absolutely not.

I believe it is our sons and daughters who are the Spirit of America, because we've learned to gain and maintain military dominance, one element is absolutely essential -- people. This is the real reason we paused on Veterans Day. We pause to recognize and celebrate the people who personify the Spirit of America, the men and women who have propelled America ever forward throughout the course of history -- our veterans.

War represents a grim paradox as it brings out the best and worst of mankind. Our veterans know all too well the dark side of humanity, whether it is the horrors of Nazi concentration camps or the atrocities inflicted on our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in the prisoner of war camps in Korea and Vietnam. The two world wars brought death on a global scale. World War I left millions dead and wounded. Two decades later, 16.5 million Americans served in World War II, and 407,000 lost their lives.

One very important question to ask at this point is what caused American men and women to step forward to answer the bell of freedom?

America was slow to enter World War I in 1914. Largely a European conflict, we were prompted to act when American lives and property were lost with the sinking of several ships in 1917. America entered World War I not to retaliate for the loss of property, but to respond to the loss of American lives. This is a common theme you will see throughout history.

In World War II, it took the dreadful events of Dec. 7, 1941, which resulted in a total of 2,323 U.S. servicemembers losing their lives to once again awaken the sleeping giant. But once engaged, the Spirit of America resulted in a firm resolve to finish the job, not only in Asia, but also Europe.

American tenacity was firmly demonstrated by the brave men who landed at Normandy. More than two years in the planning, it was the Spirit of America, bravery and sacrifice that pushed our men across the beaches and helped them scale the cliffs to liberate Europe.

In June 1950, the world was shocked when North Korean forces invaded South Korea. The Korean War initially went badly for American forces, but on Sept. 15, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur launched an amphibious invasion behind enemy lines. Again, American spirit driven to fight for freedom resulted in our forces breaking the Pusan perimeter and driving the North Koreans above the 38th parallel.

The U.S. suffered 157,530 casualties. South Korea sustained more than 1.3 million military casualties, including 415,004 dead. Other allied casualties totaled 16,532, including 3,094 dead. Many sacrifices were made at places then unfamiliar but now burned into our memory, places such as the Chosin Reservoir and Pork Chop Hill.

During the Vietnam War, amid complicated policies, poorly defined objectives and political constraints, 57,685 Americans were killed, another 153,303 were wounded, and many remain unaccounted for. What drove them to fight so hard for freedom, despite sometimes faint support? Clearly and consistently, it was the Spirit of America. More recent conflicts include Desert Storm, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Global War on Terror. In each instance, American men and women have continued history's proud pattern of sacrifice and risk for freedom.

I'm happy to say the Spirit of America is alive, vibrant and continues to prevail! And what better time to celebrate the Spirit of America than earlier this past weekend on Veterans Day. On that day we set aside our routine activities and paused to appreciate all the veterans who have served our great nation. We honored the combat veterans who stand out for having put their lives on the line again and again to preserve our freedoms. They have earned our nation's deepest admiration. But a veteran is also every Airman, Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Coast Guardsman who served during peacetime, either in the reserve components or on active duty. And let's not forget, it is these peacetime warriors who are responsible for fighting and winning our longest war -- the Cold War.

Today's force represents a broad cross section of our society. We are men and women representing every ethnic group. We are from the largest cities to the smallest towns. We are superbly trained and completely prepared because the events of the past several years have demonstrated the world's uncertainty and proved we should take nothing for granted. In past times, it may have been easy to forget those who stood guard throughout the night allowing others to sleep. Today, with continued operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other corners of the world, we share a renewed focus on saluting and remembering our veterans.

Nov. 11 we gave a special salute to all veterans who have served in the nation's armed forces, overseas and at home. Especially to those who have risked their lives in combat, heroes from the past who made the world what it is and heroes of today who are shaping what the world will be like tomorrow.

It's hard to say what the next century will bring, but as Daniel Webster once stated, "God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it."

Our history details a long line of patriots and defenders of freedom who have dedicated their lives to the Spirit of America. Fueled by the past, you men and women will continue to break barriers and shape the world. You, the Airman, Soldier, Sailor and Marine, are important, as you are the liberators of the future and you will decide what comes next. Reflect on that as you go about your duties, never accepting "good enough" as your standard. Never forget each time you carefully don your uniform, practice the art of war fighting and mentor your young troops, you pay homage to the brave men and women before us who gave their last measure of strength answering the call to freedom.

I understand and appreciate your value to this nation as veterans. I think about Will Rogers once saying, "We all can't be heroes, some of us have to stand on the curb and wave as the real heroes go by."

Let me close as I stand on the curb and wave, saying God bless you and those who keep us free. Thank You!