They were young men from the lushly forested hills of West Virginia and the barren deserts of Utah, from mill towns in Ohio and university communities in Connecticut. They were young women who knew of no other way to get an education and others who already had earned degrees in nursing.
They were high school dropouts and college professors, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, athletes and bookworms. They were kids who lied about their ages and gray-haired men who left families behind. Their skins were white, black, yellow and red.
In such a diverse grouping of humanity, many had almost nothing in common - except what counted at the times and in the places they were thrown together in desperate circumstances.
They met in foxholes in France, on the decks of sinking ships in the Pacific, in aircraft flying through forests of exploding "flak" and in small desert towns in Iraq and mountain villages in Afghanistan. They bonded in the bitter winter of the Korean Peninsula and the steaming jungles of South Vietnam. Sometimes, they found themselves on the opposites sides of stone walls in places like Gettysburg, Pa.
These were the men and women who have served our country in the military for more than two centuries.
What they had in common was a sense of patriotism beyond the understanding of many they defended, a courage most civilians could not comprehend, and a fellowship impossible for any who have not worn the uniform to attain.
And down through the generations, more than 1.2 million of them have had something else in common: They have died in the service of our country.
Today, on Memorial Day, we salute all those who have served us in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
But the day is set aside especially to honor those who died while serving - those to whom our debt of gratitude is greatest.
We honor them for their patriotism, skill and valor - and their willingness to put their lives on the line for us.
We thank God for them - and ask Him to watch over the families so many left behind.
And we ask God's blessing and comfort, too, on those who have returned from the fight maimed in body and mind. Many of them will be among us today, mourning lost comrades, as we observe Memorial Day.
Once a year, we pause to honor them and to reflect on their sacrifices.
We pay tribute to them as our faithful guardians, men and women who did deeds beyond our understanding.
We revere them as fallen heroes - every one.
God bless and keep them all.