U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor to commemorate Memorial Day, to thank service members who are currently serving and to honor those who gave their lives for their country. Isakson is himself a veteran, having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972.
Read the text of his remarks below the fold.
We would not be where we are today had it not been for veterans who died on the battlefield so we could have free speech, democracy in government, and so our people could peacefully decide whom their leaders were and leave it up to us to lead the country.
I want to put a personal face on Memorial Day for just a moment.
First, I wish to talk about a guy named Tommy Nguyen. Tommy Nguyen is my legislative staffer on military affairs information. He volunteered for the U.S. Army Guard. He went to Fort Benning, GA, and graduated No. 1 in his class. You know what that means at Fort Benning. Right now he is deployed in Afghanistan and has been deployed for the past 5 months.
While we sit here in peace and relative security in our country, people like Tommy are protecting us all over. I am grateful for Tommy. He is in my prayers every night. He is exemplary of all the other people who have gone before us and sacrificed.
I wish to mention three people who are gone and aren’t here any more, but they are the faces of Memorial Day, as far as I am concerned. I honor them at this time.
The first is Jackson Elliott Cox III. Jackson Elliott Cox III is from Waynesboro, GA, Burke County, the bird dog capital of south Georgia. He was my best friend at the University of Georgia in the 1960s. One night he came into the fraternity house–in his junior year, my senior year–and sat down beside me and a few other guys at the dinner table and said: Guys, I just did something this afternoon. I volunteered to go to OCS in the U.S. Marine Corps, go to Parris Island, and fight in Vietnam for the United States of America.
We all did the first thing all of you would do. We said: Well, Jack, have you thought this through? Is this really what you think you ought to do?
He said: You know, I have had everything as a young man to age 22. It is time that I fought to help defend the United States of America. I am going to become a marine officer, I am going to Vietnam, and I am going to help the United States win.
Jack did become an officer, and he did go to Vietnam. In the 12th month of his 13-month tour, he was killed by a sniper. Alex Crumbley, Pierre Howard, who was later the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Georgia, and I spent a week with his family as we waited for his body to come back from Southeast Asia.
The most meaningful afternoon of my life was the afternoon we sat up with Jack and his mother and father reminiscing about all the good times but deep down in our hearts knowing all the good times that would never be for Jack Cox because he had sacrificed the ultimate sacrifice for me, for you, and for all America.
Second, I wish to talk about LT Noah Harris, the Beanie Baby soldier in Iraq. Noah Harris was a cheerleader his junior year at the University of Georgia. He cheered on the Saturday before 9/11/2001. As everybody did, he watched the horror of the attack that day and all the people who were killed.
He went down to the ROTC building at the University of Georgia and he said: I want to volunteer to go after whoever those people were who attacked America in New York City.
The head officer said: Well, son, it is at least a 2-year commitment in ROTC, and you only have a year and a half to go. We cannot take you.
He said: I will make up the difference if you let me volunteer. I want to become an officer. I want to go after them, and I want to find them wherever they are.
The Army relented. Noah Harris volunteered. He went to OCS, and he went to Iraq in the surge on behalf of the United States of America. He became known as the Beanie Baby because he took Beanie Babies in his pockets and he won over the children of Iraq by handing out the Beanie Babies as he dodged bullets and put himself in harm’s way.
About six months into his tour, he was hit by an IED while in a humvee. Noah Harris was killed that day in Iraq, and we have missed him ever since. To his father Rick and his mother Lucy–God bless them. Noah was an only child, and his memory is burned deep in their hearts and deep in my mind. They are so proud of what he did for you, for me, and for all of America.
Lastly, I wish to talk about Roy C. Irwin.
These three people are the faces of why we have Memorial Day. I get emotional because I went to the Margraten Cemetery in the Netherlands a few years ago as a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to pay tribute to those soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Normandy. Margraten in the Netherlands is where most of the soldiers who were not brought home from the Battle of the Bulge are buried.
On that Memorial Day in Margraten, my wife and I walked between the graves, stopping at each one, looking at the name, and saying a brief prayer for the soldier and a family. Then all of a sudden, in row 17, at grave No. 861, I stopped dead in my tracks and I looked down and saw on the white cross: Roy C. Irwin, New Jersey, Private, U.S. Army, 12/28/44.
Roy C. Irwin died on December 28, 1944, in the Battle of the Bulge. That was the day I was born. So there I was, a U.S. Senator looking at the grave of someone who died on the day I was born so I could be a U.S. Senator 64 years later. That is what the ultimate sacrifice is all about.
Selflessly, these people went into harm’s way, fought for Americans, fought for liberty, fought for peace, and fought for prosperity. So everything we do today we owe in large measure to them–a small percentage of our population but a population that loves America and America’s people.
So this Monday when you are at the lake or at the beach or with your grandchildren, wherever you might be, stop a minute, grab the hand of one of your grandchildren, and just bow and say a brief prayer, because going before all of us were men and women who volunteered and lost their lives so you and I can do what we are doing today.
We live in the greatest country on the face of this Earth. You don’t ever find anybody trying to break out of the United States of America; they are all trying to break in. If there is a single reason that differentiates us from everybody else–when duty calls, we go and we fight.
As Colin Powell said in the U.N., before the request for the surge was approved, America has gone to every continent on Earth, sent her sons and daughters to fight for democracy, liberty, and peace, and when we have left, all we have asked for is a couple of acres to bury our dead.
I had the chance to walk a couple of those acres in Margraten, the Netherlands, and stand at the grave of Roy C. Irwin, who died the same day I was born. That memory is burned indelibly in my heart and indelibly in my mind, and I will always remember Roy C. Irwin. I never knew him, I never met him, and I never saw him, but I know his spirit. His spirit is the spirit of the United States of America.
This Monday, I hope God will bless each of you. Have a wonderful vacation and a wonderful holiday. But I hope you will pause and say thanks for the men and women who made it possible for you to do what you do today.