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John Kerry Speaks at the Vietnam Wall in Washington

November 11, 2002 - John Kerry Speaks at the Vietnam Wall in Washington

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By: John Kerry

Washington, D.C.: Statement of Senator Kerry

Vietnam War - Remarks of Senator John Kerry at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial 11.11.2002

For all of us this is a moment of special pride and remembering. For those who served in Vietnam it is that and much more.

Seven letters that's all it takes to make the word Vietnam.

But we know it is much more than a word. More than the name of a country. Vietnam. It is a period in time -- it is a one word encapsulation of history -- a one word summary of a war gone wrong, of families divided, generations divided, a nation divided. It carries in its seven letters all the confusion, bitterness, love, sacrifice and nobility of America's longest war. It is a one word all encompassing answer to questions: What happened to him? Where was he injured? When did he change?

Say the word Vietnam to a veteran and you can smell the wood burning fires, hear the AK-47's and B-52's, see pajama clad Viet Cong skirting a tree line and the helicopters darting across the sky -- you can feel all the emotions of young men and women who in the end were fighting as much for their love of each other as for the love of country that brought them there in the first place.

Today we come here to remember and to memorialize forever all that was Vietnam. In doing so we do not just read the names and remember those who gave their lives. We remember and celebrate what they were and remain part of -- a great nation committed to peace, individual liberty, freedom for all -- a nation which outlined in the writing of a constitution fundamental rights which belong to every one of its citizens and which we remember today are worth dying for. Today -- because of those engraved forever on these black panels - we celebrate rights and aspirations that are bigger than any individual and which each of us as individuals are willing to defend with life itself.

We celebrate the nobility of young Americans willing to go thousands of miles from home to fight for the notion that in the final measurement someone else's freedom was connected to our own.

It doesn't matter that politics got in the way. It doesn't matter that leaders remained wedded to their own confusion. Nothing -- not politics, not time, not outcome -- nothing will ever diminish one iota the contributions of these brothers and sisters, nothing can ever lessen the courage with which they waged war. Nothing reduces the magnitude of their sacrifice, nothing can take away the quality of their gift to their nation.

We mark 20 years of this memorial with the determination to set the record straight. Politicians may have lost the larger objectives, our allies may have lost the ability to hold on by themselves, we may have suffered losses in ambush, but in 10 years American soldiers never lost a battle.

The Vietnam soldiers, airmen and sailors fought with as much conviction, as much commitment, as much courage and as much selfless sacrifice as soldiers in any war. And we did so with love of country and love of fellow soldiers as great as any despite our nations political divisions at home and the difficult circumstances we were required to confront. This memorial will forever remind the generations to come of that special spirit the special bond of soldier to country and soldier to soldier.

And we remember today also with pride at the outcome -- that for our generation of Veterans the war did not end when we came home. For us the fight continued -- the recognition honoring our deeds came when Veterans pushed for it -- Agent Orange, outreach centers, extension of the GI Bill -- increased funding for Veterans Affairs , these all happened because Veterans remembered their brothers and sisters and never stopped fighting to keep faith with the promise to veterans.

We also remember those soldiers captured by the enemy who did not return and those we've yet to account for. One of the things we are most proud of is that we initiated the most extensive, exhaustive accounting for the missing or captured in all the history of human warfare. No nation has ever gone to such lengths to remember and to account their missing. Today -- because of the veterans of Vietnam -- when we send our young men and women into harms way, never again will we allow anyone to be left behind never will it take so long to find and bring every one home.

The truth is that every advance we've made on behalf of our Veterans has been the result of the commitment of Veterans and to each other and their vows never to give up the fight. This Wall itself grew out of that spirit.

That spirit bonded men and women together -- making us more than we were when we left for Vietnam, and didn't diminish once we had returned. Each panel, each name, tells the story of that journey. And one of those soldiers tells us about all of them.

Panel 31W, Row 42. On February 24, 1969, 19 year-old Marine Lance Corporal Wolfendale, just 17 days from coming home, was at the tail end of a three day firefight. Only one bunker of Viet Cong remained when a group of Marines suddenly got trapped in a depression in front of it.

Ed Wolfendale was safely away from the bunker and could have easily stayed there and kept his head down. Instead, like so many of our comrades, Ed thought little for his own safety and acted -- he grabbed a Light Anti-Tank Assault Weapon and charged into the line of fire. On his way, Ed took a direct hit and bled to death in the field. When the men in his platoon saw what Wolfie had done, they immediately followed his lead and soon overtook the bunker.

This could have been where the story ended -- but the spirit that brings us here today had a hand in this story. A member of Ed Wolfendale's platoon, Tom Smith, saw Ed go over that hill and was in the wave of men who followed him.

Though he didn't really know Ed Wolfendale, Tom never forgot what he did. After he returned home, Tom spent the next thirty years searching for Ed's family to ensure they knew how he died.

He didn't know his real name, he just knew Wolfie, so it wasn't until recently that he was able to track down his family. To his shock, Tom learned that not only did Ed's family not know how he died, he discovered that Wolfie had only received a Purple Heart. A few years back, because Tom Smith never forgot his comrade, Ed Wolfendale's 82-year-old mother Stella and five of his six brothers accepted the Silver Star on his behalf.

Tom Smith remembered a man he barely knew, and like so many of the Veterans who returned from the war, he remembered his brother.

That is why we come here today. To keep faith. To celebrate Ed Wolfendale and the 58,226 brave men and women who didn't return from Vietnam, who knew the Lord's words that "There is no greater love than sacrificing yourself for a friend." And so, it is in that spirit that we remember all who fought with our brothers and sisters -- for our families -- for our nation.

God bless them all and may God bless the United States of America.

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