Stephen M. Wilkins, Ed.D
Interim Superintendent Designee
Colonel (ret), U.S. Army
SHAKER HEIGHTS, OH - Good morning! Mayor Weiss, Members of the City Council, Board of Education, distinguished guests, veterans, active duty, and friends one and all of our Shaker community. As Interim Superintendent of Schools, it is a great honor to be with you today and especially so as a veteran to help commemorate the sacrifices of our military men and women who have laid down their lives for our great Nation.
Memorial Day means to keep our heroes in memory – from the wars of yesterday to today’s 17-year war in Afghanistan we pause on this day and remember those who gave their lives for our country.
Individuals like Sergeant Walter Oliver who earned the Silver Star – Americas’ third highest military honor – for valor and courage under fire in Vietnam in November 1965. Sergeant Oliver, while exposed to fire in the Ia Drang Valley of Death, charged a machine gun nest in an intense battle to save his platoon.
Sergeant Oliver advanced while simultaneously changing magazines, and though struck in the chest by a burst from the machine gun and brought to his knees, he continued to fire into the position until he was mortally wounded. His courageous action drew the enemy fire upon himself which allowed his platoon to flank and neutralize the position. He was my uncle.
There are other heroes like the sailors and Marines of the USS Indianapolis. This past August 2017, the USS Indianapolis was finally discovered, more than 70 years after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945. The ship sunk in just 12 minutes – so fast that no distress signal could be sent. Of the 1,195 crew that went down, only 316 Marines and sailors survived the exposure, delirium, and shark attacks while floating for days in the Philippine Sea.
We also have our more contemporary heroes such as Army Specialist Katrina Bell-Johnson, the mother of three children, who was killed in February 2005 in Iraq.
And those like the four Special Forces soldiers who were killed this past October 2017 in the African country of Niger. The four-man team was ambushed by up to 50-militants armed with grenade launchers and small firearms. These soldiers had families. One of these soldiers was a father of three – the third child was born three months after he lost his life. He will never again kiss his wife, nor ever hold his little one. We remember the courage and valor of our heroes, yet we also take this moment and honor the families of our service members:
- There is a mom out there who lost her baby. She is wailing in grief.
- There is a boy or girl out there who lost a mother or father. They are heartbroken.
- There is a community out there who lost a neighbor or a classmate. Those tears still flow.
And It does not matter how much time has passed – no words or condolences – can even begin to console a loss that most of us can’t even imagine. After the USS Indianapolis was found, one of the nephews of the lost sailors said: "After 72 years, the Indy might've finally been found, but I'm still lost in a sea of tears."
So if you are a Gold star mom or dad, sister or brother, son or daughter or just a cherished friend of the fallen, I want you to know that we appreciate your love and support of your service member who gave their life in defense of our country.
Today, on Memorial Day, we are one nation – we are one America. We share our grief, our pride, and our love for our heroes. Let us remember our heroes. Those whose lives give us the freedoms we enjoy today. Those whose courage, character, and commitment bind us together as one. Their lives remind us how good our nation is. Their blood keeps America strong.
Memorial Day is the time for all Americans to stand up as one body and say “Thank you. We remember you. We are grateful for your sacrifice: the supreme sacrifice. And we will never forget.”
May God bless our fallen heroes and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you.