Keynote Speech by Senator Harrison H. Schmitt
Veterans Memorial, Albuquerque NM, May 29, 2017
The flag flying at half-staff on May 29th at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial in Southeast Albuquerque
It is Teresa’s and my great privilege to join you in honoring those who have given, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, their “last full measure of devotion” – devotion to comrades, family, country and liberty.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day to honor those lost in a “Great Civil War.” It has continued as America’s heartfelt recognition of those who have lost their lives in its service. As Lincoln also said so eloquently, “It is for us the living…to be dedicated…to the unfinished work which they who fought…have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Today, we are involved in a Great Civil Debate that also will determine if, as in 1863, “these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Although there are recent signs that this debate will have a positive outcome, dangers still exist. The perpetuation of our natural rights and the American experiment in constitutional government remain uncertain.
The most critical specific danger to constitutional government, for which so many have fought and died, lies in the deterioration of the public education system.
The Nation’s Founders believed that educational instruction in the basic “virtues,” instilled by their Judeo-Christian heritage and vast knowledge of history, formed an essential foundation of the American Republic. That heritage represents thousands of years of trial and error as well as human struggles to preserve it.
The Founders saw education, and the peoples’ control of it, as an irrefutable basis for insuring the success of both the American Experiment and our citizen’s pursuit of happiness. Today, in addition to instruction in virtues, we would add knowledge of American and world history so that the meaning of Memorial Day is universally understood.
Also, external dangers to this Experiment and our security have been multiplying for several decades. Young Americans are continuously being called upon to go in harm’s way. They serve so that Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” can remain a beacon for the perpetuation of human freedom. Not only are there specific local challenges such as the western Pacific region and the eastern borders of Europe, one hot world war exists today with terrorism and a new Cold War looms on the horizon.
These challenges will be met directly or indirectly by the Armed Forces of the United States. In that context, we should note on this Memorial Day that the United States Air Force celebrates its 70th Anniversary this year, with its ancestors the Aeronautical Division of the Army Signal Corps and the Army Air Corps preceding it by another 33 years.
The United States Coast Guard has been with us for 227 years, tracing its origins to the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service.
The United States Army, Navy and Marines observe their 242nd Anniversaries this year, all three tracing their origins to the Revolutionary War.
I am proud to say that the Air Force taught me to fly T-38 jet aircraft and the Navy taught me the art of flying H-13 helicopters.
As a component of the geopolitical and security challenges posed by others, we are once again in need of a vastly expanded presence at the frontier of deep space. The young Americans of Apollo, steeped in liberty and patriotism, answered one of the many challenges presented by the former Soviet Union. At the same time, their contemporaries defended freedom in the jungles of Vietnam and at the borders of Europe, on and under the oceans, and in the planes and silos of our nuclear deterrent forces. In combination, these largely unrecognized heroes won that Cold War.
As with the many “Greatest Generations” before them, we should have no doubt today’s young Americans will meet and overcome the challenges before them on Earth and in deep space. Indeed, the heroes of the future are now among us.
Later today, my family, friends and neighbors will gather in solemn respect, gratefulness and reverence for all fallen men and women who served this great nation. With faithful spirits and bowed heads, we will raise a glass to the heavenly light above and thank the Almighty for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Teresa and I also will toast my Apollo 17 crewmate, Navy Captain Ronald Evans who flew combat tours in Vietnam; my nephew, Specialist Timothy Fitzgibbon of the 10th Mountain Division; my father-in-law, Army Lieutenant Francis Fitzgibbon who flew with the 8th Air Force over Europe in World War II and spent the last year in a POW camp; my father, Marine Sergeant Harrison Ashley Schmitt who served in World War I in the 90th Company, 7th Marines.
We quietly will toast the service men and women from all corners of the Land of Enchantment – from the farms in Dona Ana County, to the Indian Pueblos and Reservations, to the ranches of Union and Colfax Counties, to the oil fields of San Juan and Lea Counties, to the mines of Grant County. We will particularly remember New Mexicans and Americans whose sons and daughters, indeed, gave their “last full measure of devotion.”
For those veterans and their families here today and everywhere else in New Mexico and America, and for those families who’s loved ones we specifically honor today with immense gratitude, we thank you for their service and sacrifices. Because of them, we have the freedom to assemble, speak and worship as we wish. They have made us grateful beyond all measure!