National Leaders Pay Tribute to Families of Fallen Servicemembers
By Gerry J. Gilmore
Armed Forces Information Services
WASHINGTON September 26, 2009 - American servicemembers who’ve perished in the nation’s wars “died for the ones they loved,” the U.S. military’s top officer said today at a special ceremony held on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
“It is for the loved ones like you that our fallen were willing to lay down their lives, so that each of you could achieve your hopes and dreams. Dreams shared by Americans across the ages; dreams for a peaceful world without fear,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told hundreds of people attending the fourth-annual “A Time of Remembrance” ceremony.
The annual “A Time of Remembrance” ceremony honors military members who died during the nation’s wars, as well as their families and veterans. It is sponsored by the White House Commission on Remembrance, established by Congress in 2000.
Scores of children of military members who’d died during operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom received the commission’s Gold Medal of Remembrance at the ceremony. Gold Star Mothers who’d lost a son or daughter who’d died in service to the country were invited to attend the event.
“Life should always be about doing what we love in honor of the ones we love,” Mullen said to the fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, other relatives and friends who grieved for their lost loved ones.
Mullen was accompanied at the ceremony by Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey Jr. and other senior military officers.
“As a former commander and as the Army Chief of some of the brave men and women that we’re honoring today, I want the families to know that I carry the burden of their loss with me every day,” said Casey, who’d lost his father, when Army Maj. Gen. George W. Casey Sr., commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam’s central highlands on July 7, 1970.
The freedoms that Americans enjoy today, Casey said, have come with a cost.
“Throughout our history our freedoms have been bought, along with the freedoms of others, through the sacrifices and selfless service of the men and women that we honor today,” Casey said.
“I can’t think of a greater privilege than to have the opportunity to pay tribute to men and women who in service to their country gave their all,” said Army Gen. Anne E. Dunwoody, chief of U.S. Army Material Command and the first woman four-star general in U.S. history.
The landscape of warfare has changed, Dunwoody said, whereby “mothers and daughters are fighting alongside their brothers-in-arms; and now, in numbers greater than ever before, mothers and daughters are among our fallen heroes.”
Camella LaSpada, chairman of the “A Time of Remembrance program, saluted the military families who attended the event.
“May we all recognize that heroes are found on the home front, as well as the front lines; I ache for your loss,” LaSpada told family members. They and their departed loved ones, she said, are “not forgotten and never will be.”
LaSpada later read a message from President Barack Obama:
“I send my warmest greetings to the Gold Star families and all those gathered to honor our brave servicemen and women," Obama said. "The nation is forever indebted to our fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives for our country.
"As family members you have shared the sacrifice of loved ones that have served our nation with courage and an unmatched commitment to country," he said. "They wage war, so that we might know peace; brave hardship, so that we might know opportunity; and pay the ultimate price, so that we might know freedom. They are the best of America and a shining example to all in our nation.”
Actor Kevin Bacon, who portrays a military casualty-assistance officer in the HBO film, entitled “Taking Chance,” said his role taught him “the importance of honoring our fallen with complete dignity and respect.”
Family members of the fallen, Bacon said, also “have made the ultimate sacrifice,” by losing their loved ones.
“My thoughts, and the thoughts of our country, are with you,” Bacon told the family members.
Ross Perot, a Navy veteran and entrepreneur, saluted the heroism and selfless service of the fallen and praised their loved ones.
“It’s an honor to be with all of you today,” Perot said, “and certainly, we’re all here to honor our fallen heroes who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us, our great country, and our families.”
Kristine Karolasz, 30, mourned the loss of her brother, Edward Karolasz, an Army staff sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division who was killed in action on Nov. 19, 2005, during operations in Bayji, Iraq. Karolasz was accompanied by her 8-year-old daughter, Brianna Lancha.
This year’s remembrance ceremony “was very beautiful, very well organized, very well put-together and very moving,” said Karolasz, a Kearny, N.J., native.
As her eyes welled with tears, Karolasz described her departed brother as “a true American hero.”
Karolasz said she’s grateful for the chance to celebrate her brother’s service and memory.
Pointing to the hundreds of people attending the ceremony, Karolasz said of her brother and of her loss: “So many people are remembering him and so many people have been through what we’ve been through.
“We miss him,” she said.