WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2014 – The Vietnam War Memorial teaches Americans to honor those who sacrificed, but also to be honest and to question the policies that send Americans to war, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today.
Hagel served as an Army sergeant in the 9th Infantry Division during the war and spoke at the Wall today about the meaning of the memorial.
The secretary spoke about his first Veterans Day as a veteran in Omaha, Nebraska. “I’ve always remembered that Veterans Day in 1969, because it reminded me of the one constant throughout the Vietnam War – the uncommon valor of common Americans from every corner of our country,” he said. “They were the quiet heroes of our time. Some of these veterans are here today, and the names of many more are memorialized on the Wall behind us.”
The Wall lists the names of the more than 58,000 Americans killed during the war. Those looking at the names also see the reflections of themselves.
“As it records the names of the past, and reflects our hopes for the future, it also offers a reminder – a message that carries across generations: The Wall reminds us to honor those who defend our country – from making sure they’re treated with the dignity, respect, and appreciation they deserve, to caring for those who return home with visible – and invisible – wounds of war,” Hagel said.
No matter when, where or what war, the United States has “a sacred responsibility” to care for and honor those who sacrificed, the secretary said.
The Wall also reminds Americans to be honest. “There is nothing to be gained by glossing over the darker portions of a war that bitterly divided America,” Hagel said. “We must openly acknowledge past mistakes, and learn from them, because that is how we avoid repeating them.”
The Wall reminds Americans to not take security for granted, and that “we must always question our policies that send our citizens to war, because our nation’s policies must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask of the men and women who defend our country,” he said.
As secretary, Hagel has a private lunch each month with junior enlisted personnel. “What they tell me – and what every American should know – is that today’s service members don’t want to be glorified or given special treatment,” he said. “The entire 9/11 generation volunteered to serve at a time of war, and they have a strong desire to continue making a difference in the world.”
These men and women want to continue to serve even after leaving the military, he said. “They don’t need a hand-out or a hand-up – they just want the opportunity to continue proving themselves,” Hagel said. “It falls on us to make sure they get that opportunity – the opportunity that too many veterans were denied in the past.”
Hagel called on all Americans to honor veterans by “creating new opportunities for them to contribute after their service in uniform, so they can continue to help make a better world. America is forever grateful for their service to our country.”