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(Senate - May 24, 2012)

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[Pages S3617-S3619]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                              MEMORIAL DAY

  Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this Monday, May 28, is Memorial Day. 
It is a day for all Americans to honor the brave men and women in 
uniform who have served and defended our Nation--especially those who 
sacrificed their very lives for this sacred duty.
  It is only right that we set aside this day to remember those who 
have given us so much. Freedom as we know it in America could not exist 
without their heroism.
  On Memorial Day, we honor servicemembers who laid down their lives 
fighting under the command of GEN George Washington, to those who have 
perished in Afghanistan and Iraq. What a proud legacy of fighting for 
freedom our country has. I am honored to live in a nation that boasts 
the bravest warriors in the world.
  I am also honored to serve my fellow Kentuckians, who understand the 
importance of this day more, I think, than most. Kentucky has a proud 
tradition of military service that is upheld today by the many Armed 
Forces members at our State's military bases, the members of the 
Kentucky National Guard, our reservists, and Kentuckians fighting 
around the world. Since September 11, 2001, 107 Kentucky servicemembers 
have fallen while fighting for their country.
  I have been honored to meet many of the family members of these 
soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who did not return home. I have 
let them know that their loved ones will not be forgotten. Memorial Day 
is a chance to make sure that message is heard loud and clear across 
  I want to share with my colleagues a special story about one soldier 
in particular from Kentucky. SGT Felipe Pereira of the 101st Airborne 
Division, based out of Fort Campbell, KY, recently was awarded the 
Nation's second highest military honor, the Distinguished Service 
Cross, for his acts of bravery in battle.
  Sergeant Pereira is the first soldier from the 101st Airborne to be 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross since the Vietnam war. At a 
ceremony this April at Fort Campbell, Chief of Staff of the Army GEN 
Ray Odierno presented Sergeant Pereira with the venerated military 
  According to the award citation, on November 1, 2010, in Kandahar 
province, Afghanistan, a squad of soldiers that included Sergeant 
Pereira was on dismounted patrol when an improvised explosive device 
went off, killing two of Sergeant Pereira's comrades and wounding 
Sergeant Pereira with shrapnel that caused his lung to begin to 
collapse. As an enemy ambush began to unfold, ``with little regard for 
his own safety or care'' Sergeant Pereira drove an all-terrain vehicle 
into enemy fire to help evacuate wounded soldiers.
  After moving the first set of casualties, the sergeant went back into 
the line of fire once more to help others. Sergeant Pereira is credited 
with ``saving the lives of two of his fellow soldiers while risking his 
own [on] multiple occasions. Only after all the wounded soldiers had 
been evacuated and were receiving medical care did he accept treatment 
  Mr. President, Sergeant Pereira's selfless actions demand our 
admiration and respect. What is more, so does his selfless attitude 
about his bravery on that fateful day.
  ``Every time I have the opportunity, I always say remember those that 
gave the ultimate sacrifice,'' said Sergeant Pereira in an article 
published by the Fort Campbell Courier. ``I still get to come back and 
enjoy barbecues with my family and their love and everything. Those 
guys, they really gave it all. Those are truly the heroes. Just 
remember those guys. I think even on a happy occasion like this, I 
think we need to celebrate their life and their sacrifice.''
  I can't improve on those words. Sergeant Pereira has captured the 
meaning of Memorial Day right there, in those words of wisdom.
  So I hope this Memorial Day, people will heed the advice of SGT 
Felipe Pereira. The men and women who ``really gave it all'' are truly 
the heroes, and this Monday is their day to receive our admiration and 
our respect. I know my friends in Kentucky and people across America 
will not forget that.
  Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, Memorial Day is a time to pay tribute to 
those who have given ``the last full measure of devotion'' in the 
service of our great country. I believe this Memorial Day is especially 
significant as we pause to reflect on some of the events of the past 
year and acknowledge the passing of the last surviving veteran of World 
War I, the end the Iraq War, and a renewed commitment to wind down our 
engagement in Afghanistan by 2014.
  Since the first colonial troops took up arms in the fight for our 
independence in 1775, more than 1.1 million American soldiers, sailors, 
and airmen have died in the wars and conflicts fought to defend our 
Nation, our freedom, and our ideals. In the past 10 years, we have lost 
over 6,400 brave Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. The death of each 
one of these servicemen and women represents not only a tragic loss to 
their loved ones, but to their community, and to our Nation.
  The American tradition of Memorial Day--originally known as 
Decoration Day--has its roots in local springtime tributes that were 
held in the North and the South during and immediately after the Civil 
War and following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on 
April 14, 1865. On May 1, 1865, nearly 10,000 freedmen, teachers, 
preachers, missionaries, and Union troops properly landscaped and 
covered with flowers the unmarked graves of some 250 or more Union 
prisoners of war who had died in captivity at the Charleston Race 
Course, a site now known as Hampton Park. On April 26, 1866, grieving 
mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters in Columbus, MS placed flowers 
on the graves of Confederate soldiers who had died in the Battle of 
Shiloh. While they grieved for their own lost loved ones, they saw that 
nearby graves of the Union soldiers were neglected, so they placed 
flowers on these graves as well. On May 5, 1866, an official 
commemoration was held in Waterloo, NY to honor local veterans of the 
Civil War. Businesses were closed and flags were flown at half-mast to 
honor the dead. On May 5, 1868, MG John A. Logan, who headed the Grand 
Army of the Republic, GAR, which was an organization of Union veterans, 
declared that May 30 of each year should be Decoration Day, a time for 
the Nation to festoon the graves of Union and Confederate war dead with 
flowers. Logan said, ``We should guard their graves with sacred 
vigilance. . . . Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of 
reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of 
time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have 
forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.'' The 
first large observance was held that same year at Arlington National 
Cemetery. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared that 
Waterloo is the official birthplace of Memorial Day but it is apparent 
that many communities and people across America can claim some of the 
  Shortly after World War I, Decoration Day ceremonies were no longer 
limited to honoring those who had died in the Civil War. Rather, the 
commemoration was altered to embrace the men and women who have died in 
all American wars. In 1971, Congress passed legislation to make 
Memorial Day a national holiday and to fix its date as the last Monday 
in May. In December 2000, Congress passed ``The National Moment of 
Remembrance Act'' (Public Law 106 579, which encourages all Americans 
to pause wherever they are at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day for 1 
minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service 
to our Nation.
  While the Memorial Day we will celebrate this Monday is approaching 
the sesquicentennial of its birth, the tradition of honoring those who 
have fallen in war is probably as old--or nearly as old--as human 
history itself. Over 2,400 years ago--in 431 B.C.E.--Pericles paid 
tribute to the Athenian soldiers who had fallen in battle at the 
beginning of the Peloponnesian War, saying

       For this offering of their lives made in common by them all 
     they each of them individually received that renown which 
     never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much that in 
     which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of 
     shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally 
     remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall 
     call for its commemoration. For heroes have the whole earth 
     for their tomb;

[[Page S3618]]

     and in lands far from their own, where the column with its 
     epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a 
     record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that 
     of the heart.

  This Memorial Day, in the spirit of compassion and empathy shown by 
the Confederate widows who placed flowers on the graves of Union 
soldiers in Columbus, MS nearly 150 years ago, I would like to mention 
some facts about those fallen servicemen and women we too often neglect 
to consider. According to a recent study by the Army, suicides among 
U.S. servicemembers increased 80 percent from 2004 to 2008. The study 
confirmed that there is an increased risk of suicide among those who 
experience mental health disorder diagnosis associated with the stress 
of combat. Protracted military operations requiring multiple 
deployments over the past decade have made mental health disorders the 
signature wounds for our military members returning from the conflicts 
in Iraq and Afghanistan. A comprehensive study by RAND found that 
approximately 18.5 percent of those servicemen and women returning from 
deployment reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of post-
traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, or depression. Up to 30 percent of 
troops returning home from combat develop serious mental health 
problems within 3 to 4 months. And since mental health issues often are 
not immediately addressed while our servicemen and women are on active 
duty, or because of the lasting traumas of war, we see even higher 
numbers of mental illness diagnosis among our veterans. According to a 
Government Accountability Office report, U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs, VA, data ``show that from fiscal year 2004 through fiscal year 
2008, the number of unique veterans receiving treatment for PTSD 
increased by 60 percent from over 274,000 to over 442,000.''
  I believe that the best way we can truly honor those who have 
sacrificed themselves upon the altar of freedom is not just to fulfill 
our solemn obligation to care for their widows and orphans. More than 
that, we must care for their brothers and sisters in arms who have also 
borne the battle, and who have returned to us wounded, ill and injured, 
and for the family members and other individuals who selflessly care 
for them. These soldiers and sailors and airmen and their caregivers 
also deserve our gratitude, our accolades, our compassion--and our 
support. Therefore, I commend the VA Secretary Shinseki's recent 
decision to hire an additional 1,900 mental health staff at VA 
facilities to ensure greater care for our servicemembers suffering from 
the wounds of war, both physical and emotional.
  It is not just about providing adequate resources, however. Having an 
adequate number of mental health professionals is just one component of 
ensuring access to care. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates 
correctly acknowledged that the greatest obstacle to servicemembers 
receiving necessary mental health treatment is the stigma too often 
associated with seeking help for their psychological injuries. I 
frequently hear from servicemembers who believe that seeking mental 
health services will hurt their military and post-military careers. We 
must overcome these real and perceived barriers to care by changing the 
policies that govern how we provide mental health care to our active 
duty military members, reservists, and veterans. Those who suffer in 
silence will seek treatment only when they are assured they can truly 
seek such treatment and speak about their problems freely and off-the-
record. Meanwhile, as more and more go untreated, we will continue to 
see a rise in suicides and other tragic incidents among our military 
members and veterans--a preventable epidemic, which is heaping tragedy 
upon tragedy.
  During this holiday weekend and on Monday in particular we will see 
many American flags and flowers adorning the graves of those who have 
made the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation. I will remember in 
particular the 114 Marylanders who have been killed in our most recent 
conflicts as I remind myself that our freedom is not free. And I will 
remind myself that the best way to honor their ultimate sacrifice is to 
ensure that we are unwavering in our resolve not only to care for their 
widows and orphans, but also for those who do return to us wounded, 
ill, and injured--including those whose injuries are emotional. Let us 
reaffirm our commitment to support all of these individuals and their 
families and other caregivers this Memorial Day, and every Memorial Day 
  Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise to recognize the importance of 
Memorial Day, a day that means so much to me and those I represent in 
Alaska. For so many of us, it means sunlight nearly all day, the 
unofficial beginning of summer, and enjoying the great outdoors.
  But let us never forget the deep, true meaning of Memorial Day. It 
means the payment of respect, memories, time and energy to the 
sacrifices of men and women who have defended the rights and privileges 
we enjoy today.
  Memorial Day first began nearly 100 years before Alaskan statehood, 
but even in our territorial days we had Alaskans fighting on our own 
soil against foreign enemies--one of the few States that can say such a 
thing. It is because of those early successes--and the success of 
Alaskans from then to those deployed today--that we salute our flag, 
speak our mind and continue to be a global leader.
  As many Alaskans know first-hand, those successes often came at the 
ultimate price. On Memorial Day we make a small attempt to repay them 
with our support, prayers and appreciation. I ask that all Alaskans and 
Americans join me in devoting a few minutes of our time in reflection 
as a small tribute to those who have given their lives for the cause of 
  Although we may not be able to fully measure the cost of our heroes' 
sacrifice, we can commit ourselves to preserving their memory. So on 
Memorial Day 2012, I ask that we honor our fallen heroes, comfort the 
loved ones of those we lost, and carry on our lives in a manner that is 
worthy of their sacrifice. May God continue to bless our great Nation.
  Mr. President, I yield the floor.
  Mr. HELLER. Mr. President, today I wish to pay tribute to the men and 
women of our Nation who have given their lives for the cause of freedom 
and to honor those who are still with us today. On this Memorial Day 
weekend, let us stand together as Americans to pay our respects and 
mourn the loss of those brave soldiers who fought in defense of our 
liberty. As we gather across the Nation, we need to remember the 
invaluable sacrifices of our troops and their families are debts that 
can never fully be repaid.
  Every soldier whose life is taken in the line of duty is a great loss 
to our Nation. Lives have been sadly shortened, and we all feel an 
absence. We may never be able to measure the loss, but we can take 
solace in knowing that their lives served to inspire, defend freedom, 
and preserve life. Today, we commemorate the brave men and women in 
uniform who gave their lives while serving our country.
  We must also remember the members of our Armed Forces who are 
currently in harm's way. In this trying time in America's history, our 
soldiers have accepted the call of duty, knowing that the road ahead is 
dangerous and full of hardship. Their courage and resiliency are what 
make our military the best in the world. Our servicemembers face 
perilous situations in order to protect Americans from harm, and I am 
so grateful for all they do. Their commitment of service and self-
sacrifice is what we admire, appreciate, and respect. As we continue 
withdrawing some of our combat forces, we pray for their safe return.
  As someone whose father is a disabled veteran and whose brother 
served overseas, I understand firsthand the struggles of our 
servicemembers and the significant sacrifices made by their families. 
The families of our military men and women also make tremendous 
sacrifices for our country and for the safety of our Nation. Each and 
every deployment causes great stress and a burden of separation that 
every member of these families experience. They have loved ones far 
away from home and are sacrificing their own well-being for the 
protection of our country. We must remember that these families serve 
as the backbone for the men and women who wear the uniform of our armed 
services, and our Nation owes them a debt of great gratitude.
  Today, we honor those who have given their life in service to their 
country. We will never forget our soldiers

[[Page S3619]]

who fought for a better America and served our country with honor. I 
ask my colleagues to join me today in honoring our Nation's heroes who 
have given the ultimate sacrifice to make sure that our country remains 
safe and free.