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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Veterans Day Speech to American Legion Post 121 in Waco

U.S. Representative Chet Edwards gave the following speech at the American Legion Post 121 in Waco, Texas, to honor the lives of local fallen soldiers this Veterans Day. President Bush was in attendance.

Mr. President, it is a privilege for us to join with you, our Commander-In-Chief, in honoring those who have sacrificed so much in behalf of the American family.

To the families of John David Fry, Jeffery Paul Schaffer, Johnny Ray Strong and Javier Villanueva, given the depth of your sacrifice for country, it is a genuine privilege for each of us here to be with you today. Our heartfelt prayers go out to you, because we understand that your loss will last long after the war’s end. To the children: Taliyah, Makayla Grace, Kathryn, Gideon and C.L., as the father of 10 and 11 year old sons, I would like to say to you, when my two sons grow up some day, if I have the right to be half as proud of them as you have the right to be proud of your fathers, I would consider my life to have been a success.

To give one’s life for another, to give one’s life for country, is a noble cause, and my faith tells me that our God who gave us the precious gift of human freedom surely saves a special place in heaven for those who died in defense of His divine gift. I believe that John, Jeffery, Johnny and Javier are in a better place now. They have joined the legacy of American heroes who have given, in the words of President Lincoln, “the last full measure of devotion.”

As I think of their spirit, I cannot help but think about a young soldier my family and I met at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in our nation’s capital on Thanksgiving morning three years ago. He was 20, just one year out of high school when he lost a leg in combat in Iraq. There, by his bedside with his mother, as we talked, he turned to me and said, “Sir, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am proud to have served my country, and I would be proud to serve it again.”

It is that inspiring spirit, that patriotism that we honor today. That young soldier, along with the fallen we honor here, personify the spirit of the American veteran. We have seen that spirit at Concord and Lexington. We have seen it in the Argonne forest and on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima. We have seen it in the frozen mountains of Korea and in the steaming jungles of Viet Nam. Today, a new generation of patriots shows us that courageous spirit in the streets of Baghdad and in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. Ordinary citizens making extraordinary sacrifice in duty to country—that is the timeless story of the American veteran.

Listen with me, if you would, to the meaning of these stories.

Lance Corporal Johnny Ray Strong. He wanted to be a Marine since he was 11. A friend of his at AJ Moore High School said, and I quote, “He told me if he ever did anything with his life, he wanted to be a Marine.” Well, Johnny did something very special with his life. And, with the typical humility of a combat veteran, he wrote of himself on MySpace just days before his death, at the age of 21, “Just a regular person trying to make friends.” There was nothing just regular about Johnny Ray Strong.

Army Specialist Javier Villanueva, this quiet, serious but life loving father of a one year old daughter was one month away from coming home when he was killed on Thanksgiving Day. We will forever be thankful for his life and his service to country.

Army Specialist Jeffery Paul Schaffer. He was humble and shy, just 21. His dad said he had looked forward to signing up for the Army because of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He was always thinking of others. He made a surprise visit home the January before his death for his mother’s birthday, and when combat heated up in Ramadi months later, he wrote his mother and said, “Momma, don’t be upset if anything happens to me, because it’ll be God’s will.” Now, he is in God’s loving arms.

Gunnery Sgt John David Fry. As an explosive ordinance disposal technician, he once went into a home to disarm a bomb strapped to a mentally retarded Iraqi child. He turned down a Bronze Star and a ticket out of Iraq after a serious wound, because he said he just wanted to do what he was supposed to be doing. Just days before this 28-year-old father of three young children was to return home, he volunteered in al Anbar province to defuse one more explosive device. This brave Marine, who had saved hundreds of lives, finally gave his own.

I cannot help but wonder, where do we get these magnificent young Americans? We are so blessed to live in a nation where our youth, with maturity far beyond their years, would give their all in service to country. That spirit of selfless service is what makes America a great, and a good nation. It is the spirit of the American veteran.

As we reflect on that spirit, I also believe that the unsung heroes and heroines of our nation’s defense are the spouses, children and families of our servicemen and women. You might not have worn our nation’s uniform, but, through your personal sacrifice in time of war and peace, you, too, have served our nation, and we salute you.

Selfless service, love of country, timeless values — that is the story of the American veteran. Those we honor today, along with American veterans from all eras, have kept their promise — the noble promise to protect our nation, the greatest nation in the world. Now, it is our duty to keep our promise to honor the American veteran.

Thank you to everyone here for saying eloquently with your presence at this ceremony, that Veterans Day isn’t just another holiday or shopping day. It is a sacred day to pay tribute to those who have hallowed our land with their service and blood. Veterans Day is about those veterans still living and those now in God’s sanctuary. It is about everyday citizens who have made extraordinary sacrifices in behalf of the American family, and it is about tomorrow’s veterans who are fighting for our nation today.

My hope is that a grateful nation will honor the American veteran and his or her family with our words and our deeds, with our respect and our prayers, not just on Veterans Day, but every day. May God Bless all of our veterans and their loved ones, and May God bless the land we love.

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