Memorial Day message from Adm. Stavridis, SACEUR

The White House seen through the stars of an American flag, May 2, 2011.

From James Stavridis, U.S. European Command:  We have lost many brave men and women in Iraq.  Army Private First Class Diego Rincon of Georgia wrote his mother a “last letter home.”

“Whether I make it or not, it’s all part of the plan.  It can’t be changed, only completed.  “Mother” will be the last word I’ll say.  Your face will be the last picture that goes through my eyes.  I just hope that you’re proud of what I am doing and have faith in my decisions.  I will try hard and not give up.  I just want to say sorry for anything I have ever done wrong.  And I’m doing it all for you, Mom.  I love you.”

Another letter from Iraq, this one from US Army Captain Michael MacKinnon, to his young daughter Madison:

“Madison, I’m sorry I broke my promise to you when I said I was coming back.  You were the jewel of my life.  I don’t think anyone would ever be good enough for you.  Stay beautiful, stay sweet.  You will always be daddy’s little girl.”

Captain Michael MacKinnon died in October, 2005, in Iraq.

More recently, another father gave voice and image to his son—a Marine Lieutenant lost in today’s conflict in Afghanistan.

Robert was killed protecting our country, its people, and its values from a terrible and relentless enemy in Afghanistan.  We are a broken-hearted but proud family.  He was a wonderful and precious boy living a meaningful life.  He was in exactly the place he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do, surrounded by the best men on this earth—his Marines and a Navy Doc.”

This letter was written by a cherished friend of mine, Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly.

What can we learn from these powerful letters?

To answer that, let me close with excerpts from just one more letter. It was written from Iraq as a “just in case” letter by Private First Class Jesse A. Givens, a letter to be delivered to his wife and children only in the event of his death.

“My family,” he writes, “I never thought that I would be writing a letter like this. I really don’t know where to start.  The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when we quit taking life so serious and smiled.  The sounds of a beautiful boy’s laughter or the simple nudge of a baby unborn.  You will never know how complete you have made me…I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share…Please keep my babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone. . . Teach our babies to live life to the fullest, tell yourself to do the same.

I will always be there with you…Do me a favor, after you tuck the children in, give them hugs and kisses from me.  Go outside and look at the stars and count them.  Don’t forget to smile.

Love Always, Your husband, Jess.”

The letter was delivered in May 2003, two weeks before the birth of their son and just after his death in combat.

So again, I ask, what can we take from these letters, so sweet and sad and powerful in their simplicity and honesty?

First, and most importantly, that we are a lucky nation indeed to have such men and women, who say to us, “I will go.”

Second, that their words matter.  Their lives had weight and importance.  That we read their letters and in events like this, respect them and grieve with their families for their loss.  And perhaps most importantly, that we support their families.  That is what INTREPID is all about.

Third, a lesson for all of us who go on in this world, safe and protected due to the sacrifice of others: we should live our lives to the fullest.

To that end, I’d like to close on this magical night on board this historic ship by repeating the words of young Private First Class Jess Givens—who will be forever young in our hearts and our prayers.  What he has to tell is us far more profound than anything this aging Admiral has to say:

He said:

Hug and kiss your children

Go outside and look at the stars

Don’t forget to smile

That is pretty good advice for a Memorial Day … or any day.

In the end, what else really matters?

So let us remember our heroes—those of our past and those of our present who walk among us right now.

Again, this is THEIR award.  I am proud only to give voice to them tonight.

God Bless you all and God Bless America.

Excerpt from "The words they leave to us" speech by Adm. James Stavridis, Commander, U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.  (photo: AP)

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