Johnson Unveils Natchez Federal Courthouse World War I Memorial Plaques
As prepared for delivery
U.S. General Services Administration
Natchez Federal Courthouse World War I plaque unveiling
November 10, 2011
I’m delighted to be able to join Mayor Jake Middleton, Pastor Clifton Marvel, Pastor LeRoy White, and so many other distinguished civic and business leaders.
And, I bring greetings from President Barack Obama and my colleagues in his administration.
I am honored to be here with you today to celebrate the unveiling of the new Natchez Federal Courthouse World War I memorial plaques.
It is especially meaningful for me because, like so many American families, mine has a history of military service.
My great uncle Henry Morris left his farm in upstate New York to fight in World War I. He was gassed in the battlefields and was never able to hold his hands steady after that.
My father served in the Navy during World War II. My uncle Robert Nace was a Navy chaplain during that war. My uncle George Nace entered Nagasaki with Adm. Byrd shortly after the atomic bomb was dropped on that city. Years later, he died of an especially virulent cancer. And my dear uncle Peter Kelley fought in Korea and was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds.
I am privileged, and we all are privileged, to have the legacy of previous generations to guide us forward.
One of the reasons I am tremendously proud to lead the U.S. General Services Administration is that our job is to serve the enormous swath of public servants, including our nation’s veterans.
We provide the surround sound, if you will, so that agencies and departments can do their work. And, importantly, we support the Department of Veterans Affairs so that they can support our veterans.
We trust that our acquisition, design, construction and historic preservation expertise serves our veterans as befits their service to our great nation. There is no doubt that they have served selflessly and with honor.
Their missions have taken them to beach heads in Europe and field hospitals in Asia, to trenches on the Western Front and deserts in the Middle East.
Through the crucible of war and the sanctuary of peace, they have carried our banner and defended our country.
Whether helping at home when natural disasters strike or protecting our people abroad, our veterans have brought homes to the homeless, help to the helpless, and hope to the hopeless. And they have always protected the flame of freedom.
And as they have been faithful to their missions, so we, too, must remain faithful to our mission: to create the more perfect union imagined by Lincoln and defended by generations of American men and women.
This mission is our nation’s lifeblood, and it’s the sacred obligation we carry with pride and pass on to our children and grandchildren.
It’s the touchstone of our progress and the common purpose around which we unite. And today we celebrate and honor that mission with these new bronze memorials.
By recasting the names onto new metal, this memorial honors our past, celebrates our present, and carries us forward with clear-eyed optimism.
It honors all the Adams County World War I veterans, regardless of race or gender, and in so doing, gives the wheel of our nation’s history another turn toward justice.
The plaques stitch the community together around a shared sense of service and bring us closer to that more perfect union.
Tomorrow, we honor the service of the more than 24 million American veterans who have defended our freedom and way of life over the decades.
And as we honor the men and women who serve and have served abroad, we must also take a moment to thank those left at home – spouses, children, parents, sisters and brothers – who bear an extraordinary burden.
They are the ones who compensate for the missed ballet recitals and baseball games.
They are the ones with the chins up and the cheer in their voices, and who fight the constant grinding worry. They are the ones, like my neighbors, whose light is often on at 3 in the morning as he sits and reads, unable to sleep while his son is in Afghanistan. These are the realities of our nation’s military families, and we owe them our deepest gratitude.
That’s why these plaques are important. They are a message from Natchez and our nation to the families of those honored, that although they are gone, they are far from forgotten. That as long as bronze can withstand the summer sun and the winter rain, their names shall remain immortalized. And that where once there was a wrong, today there is a right.
But the plaques are also a symbol – not just to the families of those we remember today, but to the veterans and families of every generation – that no matter when you served or for how long and no matter your race, gender, or creed, your country will never leave your side.
America remembers your service, and we will never forget your sacrifice.
To all of our veterans, past, present, and future: You have, and will always have, the thanks of a grateful nation.