Remarks by Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr., Memorial Day Observance at the Manila American Cemetery, May 29, 2011
§ Distinguished representatives of the Government and Armed Forces of the Republic of the Philippines
§ General Eduardo Oban, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines
§ General Gary North, Commander of the Pacific Air Forces
§ Business, civic and veterans groups and members of the clergy
§ Distinguished Ambassadors and colleagues from the Diplomatic and Consular Corps
Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat. Good morning and welcome to Manila American Cemetery for our Memorial Day ceremony.
On Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who have given their lives in service to our nation. This weekend, Americans will gather in cemeteries, at monuments, and on battlefields around the world to pay tribute to the fallen.
This holiday began in 1868 as Decoration Day, when we first honored those who were killed during the Civil War. One hundred forty three years later, we continue the tradition.
Today we remember Nathan Hale, who gave up his life in 1776 for our nascent republic, declaring, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
We remember the soldiers at Manassas and Antietam, who perished in our Civil War. We remember the GIs on the beaches of Normandy and at Leyte Gulf, who died so that others could live free. Their legacy continues today with the men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, who are working to make our world safe and free for future generations. We honor these men and women, and their fallen comrades for their courage, their heroism, and their selflessness.
Seventeen thousand two hundred and two graves surround us in this cemetery. Inscribed on the limestone walls around us are an additional thirty six thousand, two hundred and eighty five names of those whose remains were never recovered. In total, more than fifty thousand heroes are remembered here every day; today they are not just remembered—they are honored. And they are thanked.
Among these men is First Lieutenant John H. Smith, whose son, retired Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Walker, joins us here today, and whose grandson, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Walker, is stationed in Manila as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force. Thank you to Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Walker for being with us today.
The thousands interred here also include over five hundred Filipinos who fought shoulder to shoulder with Americans to liberate Manila, and the entire Pacific theater, and who marched through Bataan together. Together, American and Filipino soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines fought a tide of aggression from Bataan to Corregidor to Leyte. Some of you here with us today were a part of this historic and heroic alliance, and you laid the groundwork for our continuing partnership. You are all heroes, and on this day, we salute your valor and your love of country.
The Philippines has long been an ally, partner, and friend of the United States. Filipinos and Filipino-Americans continue to work alongside Americans in the battle against terrorism. The recent death of Osama bin Laden marks an important victory in this fight and for all who wish to live in peace, security, and dignity. It also serves as a reminder to anyone who would use terrorism as a weapon against the innocent that we will be relentless in our efforts to bring them to justice.
The fight against violent extremism knows no national boundaries, and today we remember those Filipinos and Americans who have died in this battle, here in the Philippines and elsewhere.
We are honored and grateful for the sacrifices of people like Sergeant Zainah ‘Caye’ Creamer, a Filipino-American serving in the U.S. Army who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Sergeant Creamer was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the NATO, and Meritorious Service Medals for her actions before being laid to rest in the Philippines earlier this year.
Today, we welcome with open arms and thankful hearts Sergeant Creamer’s mother Carlyn and stepfather, Ernie Brown, who have traveled from Siquijor for our ceremony today.
We cherish the friendship and commitment of the Philippines and will continue to work together in the spirit of collaboration: combatting global terrorism, offering support in the aftermath of natural disasters, and jointly promoting peace and development.
I reiterate today what I said last week: now and in the future, we will maintain our strong and historic relationship, and we are dedicated to being your partner in times of need, or in times of peril.
Jose Rizal once declared, “What matters death, if one dies for what he loves, for his land and for whom he adores?” Each of the fifty thousand names inscribed in this cemetery belongs to someone who shared Rizal’s sentiment.
As we gather today, we reflect upon the ideals for which our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen died—liberty, equality, and justice. With fifty thousand reminders, let us not forget the price paid for our freedom as we look forward to the future. We honor their sacrifice by continuing to strive toward the ideals for which they gave their lives.
Maraming salamat po.