Fernley, Nev.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks today at the Memorial Day service of the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Seven score and four years ago, President Lincoln renewed his oath to lead a war-torn country – a burden he would bear for little longer than a month before he would become one of the last casualties of that conflict.
“He voiced the fervent hope of a wounded nation that ‘this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.’
“Today we have come to honor the brave men and women who passed away too soon in the pursuit of peace and for their countrymen’s safety.
“We remember those who have fought and fallen. We revere those who continue to sacrifice. We recommit ourselves to fulfilling our obligation to those who volunteer. And we reaffirm Lincoln’s fervent hope.
“There are 385 Americans who last Memorial Day honored the fallen as they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who this year are counted among them.
“We think of them – of the nearly 5,000 who have given their lives in these two wars – and the nearly 5,000 who forever lie here in Fernley.
“I am humbled to be joined today by so many veterans who so personally know the scourge of war. You bear its scars on your bodies and your memories – and you have our deepest appreciation and thanks.
“Today we remember those who never lived to become veterans. On these peaceful grounds, we remember those who witnessed the worst of war.
“They were Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. To all of us, they were heroes. But to many, they were much more. They were husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers.
“Four who died this year were something else, as well: They were our neighbors.
“Army Private First Class Willington Rhoads’ friends called him Billy. He was a fine athlete and a decorated soldier who fought in Iraq, and twice went to Afghanistan with his airborne battalion. Before he served his country, he served his community, becoming a Boy Scout as a teenager.
“Private Rhoads, who called Las Vegas home, died in Bagram, Afghanistan, last July 16. Today is surely unlike any other Memorial Day for his parents, Mitch and Sarah; and his brothers, Jacob, Augustus and Wyatt.
“Chief Warrant Officer Christian Humphreys’ home was just down the road from here, on the northwest side of Fallon. He loved flying, backgammon and paintball. He loved his parents, Daniel and Sylvia; his sister, Alexandra; and his brother, Tobias. He loved his wife, Christina. And he loved his country.
“After serving in the Navy, Officer Humphreys joined the Army to fulfill his dream of flying helicopters. He rose to become chief of his rescue unit, and was responsible for deciding when to deploy crews to help the wounded.
“One of his buddies in the rescue squad said Officer Humphreys always ‘wanted to fly in the front seat.’ On November 15, he fell on the front lines while on a mission over Mosul, Iraq.
“Ezra Dawson earned nearly a dozen military honors, most notably the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. If the Army had a decoration for its class clown, Specialist Dawson would have won that, as well.
“Everyone remembers him for his brilliant sense of humor. He tried his hand at stand-up comedy in Las Vegas and could always make his fellow troops laugh, even as they braved combat and the cold Afghan winter.
“Specialist Dawson led a reconnaissance team in the part of northeastern Afghanistan known as ‘the Valley of Death.’ There, he saved a fellow soldier’s life while under enemy fire. Specialist Dawson – the dedicated son of a preacher; the doting father of his daughter, Diamond; and the devoted husband of his wife, Starlia – was killed on January 17.
“In the past week, Nevada lost another son. Petty Officer Sean Ward was loved in Lovelock. He was a star on the baseball diamond, the basketball court and the football field. He was a standout in the classroom, earning honors at Pershing County High School.
“Everyone in town knew Sean. And everyone knew that when he followed his father into the military, he was doing what he loved. Sean last spoke to his dad, Mike, and his mom, Maria, on Mother’s Day. On Tuesday night, his Navy helicopter crashed off the coast of San Diego.
“These courageous men died for their country just as they had started to live. They were 31, 28, 23 and 20 years young.
“Private Rhoads, Officer Humphreys, Specialist Dawson and Petty Officer Ward went to war with so much promise before them – but they leave behind so much, too. Where they leave a void, they also leave us valor. Though they leave us sorrow, they also leave us honor.
“Their memory inspires the nearly 1,000 Nevadans who commemorate this Memorial Day on the battlefields of the Middle East and who protect us here at home. It inspires me and it inspires Senator John Ensign. Senator Ensign is in Boulder City today, representing our Nevada Senate delegation, as I am here. He asked that I extend to you his regards.
“The memory of these selfless men and women inspires all of our state’s leaders – each of whom share the sincere belief that among our most important jobs is to make sure our support for the troops does not end with their tours of duty.
“Memorial Day was conceived as Decoration Day, a time to adorn the resting places of those who fell for our flag. The Grand Army of the Republic assigned us the sacred responsibility of ensuring none would ever be forgotten.
“This is what the declaration establishing the holiday said: ‘If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.’
“In truth, our eyes, our hands and our hearts cannot convey in full our deep debt to these brave men and women. Neither the words we say, nor the wreaths we lay, can properly repay that which they have given.
“We can offer only some small measure of gratitude to those who, as Lincoln observed at Gettysburg, gave the last full measure of devotion so that our nation might long endure.”