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David K. McQuillen
Veterans Day Address 2004
St. Croix County Government Center

Thank you. It is a great honor to speak here today, the 50th Veterans Day.

All my life I have been surrounded by veterans. I am a child of the Greatest Generation and both my parents are veterans of the Second World War. My grandfather served in the United States Marine Corps during the Spanish American War and my mother’s brother was killed in action in 1944 while serving with the First Marine Division on a small, coral island in the Pacific, known as Peleliu. I am a United States Marine Corps veteran of the Viet Nam war. As I grow older, I understand, as only a veteran can understand, that all veterans are my family.

There is nothing I can say here that can adequately communicate the esteem in which I hold the men and women of our military. You see, to me the essence of a soldier is not a readiness to kill, although sometimes that is what must be done. To me, the essence of a soldier is the willingness to sacrifice his or her own life; a sacrifice all too often made, in many ways and in many places.

When called to service we came from farms, cities and suburbs; from the ghetto, the college and from the small town high school, fresh from basketball games, proms and summers at the lake. When called, we came as one race—American--although some of us were Mexican and others Canadian, others Polish or French, for such is the power of our ideal. We were, and are, Americans all because we came with one mission: to offer ourselves, that this great country might persevere and prosper, that this first modern democracy and its diverse peoples would be and would remain free, achieving economic might and opportunity for all.

Over the past two and a third centuries we came, and many of us died in battle. Even more of us died from diseases such as malaria and dysentery. In the first days of our nation, some of us died on the battlefield at Trenton and others in the snows of Valley Forge. We fought, in our second war of independence, in New York, in the swamps of the Louisiana bayou and on the high seas. We fought in Mexico--in the Halls of Montezuma of the song--1733 of us dying there.

We fought on both sides in our bloody and terrible Civil War to preserve freedom, and a quarter of a million of us died in battle. We fought in Africa, China and Korea; Cuba and the Philippines. We fought and died in the trenches of France and Germany in "the war to end all wars," whose guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

In the first decades of the 20th century we knew the battlefields and encampments of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Sixty years ago we sacrificed ourselves in places named Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Betio, and in the air over Germany and France. We fought at Normandy and The Bulge, Anzio and Salerno and on all the great oceans of the world. Almost 300,000 of us died on the battlefields of that war. Over 16 million of us fought, some of whom still walk among us, shining heroes to be honored now for they leave us by the hundreds each day.

In my lifetime we fought, once more, in Korea, in places with names like Inchon, Chosin and the Tonkton Pass and we died in the tens of thousands. We fought in Indochina: Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam, even Thailand. We fought, as soldiers always fight, not for a political policy but for a political ideal, for our honor, our units and, ultimately, for each other. Over 50,000 of us died in those jungles. I saw that dying. The numbers have names like Jimmy Sells, Bob Bonebright and James Cox--the Marine who we called Sugar Bear because of his sweet disposition.

Once again, we fought in the Dominican Republic then Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia and, again, in Haiti. And we died and we were scarred by the physical wounds and from the brutality of the task. We fight today in the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo "keeping the peace," as we fought the entire latter half of the last century in the battles of nerve and will we have called the Cold War. These are but a few of the places we have seen.

And this day, our brothers and our sisters fight on the banks of the ancient Euphrates at Falluja and, soon, Ramadi. They fight for all of us. They offer themselves in our stead. They are in Afghanistan fighting and dying, in East Africa, and still another time in the Philippines-- and in places we will not know.

While others were finishing college, establishing careers or starting families, our veterans were doing America’s work in fighting holes and tents, ships and airplanes; America’s work is done in knee-deep mud in malarial swamps and on bitter-cold mountains. We went to remote and lonely barracks, far from our homes and families, missing the births and deaths at home, the birthdays and the holidays, our children’s first words and first steps. We take great pride in being called to service so you could be here for the families and the children. We will do nothing so important again.

Today, our military personnel serve on all continents, on the seas and in the skies. They serve us as pilots and mechanics, tankers and truckers, clerks and cooks. They keep us safe and prosperous by keeping the peace and by visiting violence upon those who would do us harm. Remember, as you go out this day, that among you are men and women who offer their very lives for your safety and security.

Remember, also, something that we and our families know all too well: sacrificing your life for your country does not always mean dying. We went places we did not want to be and saw things no one should see. We gave the most important years of our lives to our country and those of us who returned too often came back different, changed physically and emotionally by what we had endured, having sacrificed our comfortable lives for not two, four or twenty years-- but forever.

Thank the veterans among you. Honor them by supporting health care for them and by supporting the disability payments needed to compensate for lost arms and legs (today’s battlefields are particularly dangerous to extremities), for the cancers acquired, the brains damaged and the mental health lost.

We are all around you. You may not recognize us but we are here and we will always be here, waiting for our country to call. Thank us by remembering.

There is a famous and apt inscription on a monument on foreign soil to Allied dead in the Second World War. It reads, as an epitaph might:

When you go home
Tell them of us and say:
"For your tomorrow
We gave today."

Do not forget.

Thank you to all who have served. God bless you.

To those today in harm’s way may God preserve you and bring you back home to our country for which you have given so much and from which so much is owed.

Thank you.


"We sleep safely in our beds
because rough men stand
ready in the night
to visit violence on those
who would do us harm."
attributed to Orwell




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