Secretary of State Rokita's Memorial Day Address in Highland

Contact: Cam Savage

Todd Rokita - Highway of Flags Ceremony

Todd Rokita - Highway of Flags Ceremony
Memorial Day, May 26, 2003

Thank you and good morning.

I want to especially thank Kim Ford and President Hershel Talkington and the entire Highland Council of Community Events for all the work they put into today.

Today is a day of remembrance. Remembrance for the sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren of Indiana who have served our country in battle and given what President Abraham Lincoln, on the field at Gettysburg, called the "last full measure of devotion."

For hundreds of years, the men and women of Indiana have answered their country's call to duty and have taken up arms in the defense of liberty at home and around the globe.

From our Revolution for Independence to that field at Gettysburg, in Europe and the Pacific, in Korea and Vietnam to our most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Northwest Indiana's sons and daughters have always served our country with dignity and honor.

But the long history of military service so revered in Indiana makes the loss of our friends, our family members, or our neighbors in combat no easier to bear.

In our country's most recent conflict, we saw an evil dictator defeated, a nation liberated and the world made safer for future Americans. In just three weeks time, the United States military, with awesome force and the help of a few freedom-loving allies, moved hundreds of miles through the Iraqi desert, toppling the regime of a brutal dictator and bringing freedom to a people who had never known it.

But there is a cost for freedom and democracy - a cost, we as Americans, have always been willing to pay. A plaque at the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C reminds us simply that "Freedom is not free." And the price of freedom in Iraq has been deeply felt at our home here in Northwest Indiana.

Corporal Greg Sanders joined the Army immediately after graduating from Hobart High School, where he was captain of the cross country team. He was only 19 years old when a sniper took his life 70 miles south of Bagdad. As an ammunition loader in an Abrams tank, assigned to a platoon with the 3rd Infantry Division, Corporal Sanders was one of the first Americans into battle in Iraq. Shortly before his death, Corporal Sanders wrote a letter to his mother in which he said morale was high and that he supported the decision to use military force against the forces of Saddam Hussein. Speaking of Greg, his mother said, "He was proud to call the President his boss."

Like Corporal Sanders, Marine Sgt. Duane Rios was a devoted husband, and he too grew up right here in Griffith. Sgt. Rios lost his life in a battle on the outskirts of Bagdad just four days before that now famous statue of Saddam Hussein would fall and with it, the Hussein regime in Bagdad. Army Specialist Roy Buckley was more than just a soldier - he was an humanitarian. He gave, I'm told, his last $20 to a suffering Iraqi man he met on the street. Buckley, a Merrillville High School grad, drove fuel trucks for the Army. When he lost his life, he was distributing food and water to the starving people of Iraq.

Sanders, Rios, Buckley. They are heroes, along with their hundreds of thousands of comrades in arms who have volunteered to defend America and the principles we stand for. Sanders, Rios and Buckley were our friends, our neighbors and our relatives.

Today we honor Corporal Sanders, Sgt. Rios and Specialist Buckley and the thousands of American soldiers who kissed their families goodbye and left their homes to go half-way across the globe, in whatever conflict or action, to make the world a safer place for their children and their children's children.

Our thoughts and prayers today are also with the families of all of our soldiers, past and present. As the poem on today's program so eloquently describes - in the face of military conflict, suffering and sacrifice are not limited to foreign battlefields. The families of our military women and men deserve our gratitude for the hardships that they also endure and for the courage that they display here at home.

Indeed, freedom is not free. There is a cost and we as leaders in the community must never let others forget that it's a cost that must be paid from time to time.

America is a special place, and an example to the world. And I say today that nothing signifies that more than our men and women in uniform. Volunteers all, they take an oath to defend our nation and our beloved Constitution and they freely sacrifice their lives in the defense of liberty and the United States of America.

Let us today agree amongst ourselves to never forget the cost of freedom. Let us never forget Corporal Sanders, Sgt. Rios and Specialist Buckley, three men from our proud home of Northwest Indiana, husbands, fathers, friends, who answered their country's call and to whom we as a nation are eternally grateful.

Let us not forget the sacrifices made by these men and the sacrifices made by all Americans from our revolution to today. It says something about a country, that men and women are willing to give their lives in its defense and in the defense of its principles. It is, I think, a sign of greatness, and America is great because of men like Corporal Sanders, Sgt. Rios and Specialist Buckley who loved their country so much that they were willing to give the "last full measure of devotion."

May God bless you and may God bless Indiana and the United States of America.