Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am very honored to be here today as a part of the Norwood Family, and as a guest of the citizens of Pflugerville, Texas, and particularly of those citizens in our audience today who are Gold Star Family Members. President John F. Kennedy once said that, "A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers."
Today we are here to honor and remember 9 Pflugerville men, and their families, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation from World War I to present. Nine brave Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from this small German-American farming community, which, for many years, numbered less than 300 people. Men who answered the call in their Nation’s hour of need, and to whom America owes a great debt of gratitude, a debt which can never be repaid.
I have always been intrigued with the extraordinary sense of pride and patriotism that I have now come to expect from Texans… So, as I prepared to draft these remarks, I asked a fellow Marine classmate at the Marine Corps War College, LtCol Jay Hatton, what makes Texans so special? LtCol Hatton, a native of White Oak, Texas and a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, described growing up with a strong sense of his State being born of a “rough and tumble spirit and an incredible self-sufficiency.. with its citizens conquering the frontier, taming the sometimes harsh environment , and fighting for their independence”. LtCol Hatton explained that, “the people of Texas are raised with a special sense of their history and traditions of independent action and spirit.”
I have read the personal histories of the men we honor here today. Men like Cpl Alfred Kerline, who was repeatedly cited for bravery after seizing well defended enemy machine gun positions in the trenches of France,…tragically only to be struck down just 10 days before the Armistice ended the “war to end all wars.”
Cpl Willie Wieland, who died of influenza en-route to combat in France, was buried at sea, and who will only now – 87 years later – have his name inscribed in a memorial that his family and fellow citizens can view. I can only imagine what this means to the Wieland Family.
We can imagine 1st Lt Kermit Fuchs, who after being hit by flak over Germany, must have done his best to steady his B-24, just long enough to enable one of his crew to bail out, heroically making the ultimate sacrifice for his men. The Fuchs family’s wartime service included Lt Fuchs’ sister, Oleta, who was a nurse in England and who visited with her brother shortly before he gave his life for his country. Lt Fuchs’ brother, Robert, who is with us here today, later served as an infantry platoon Sgt across Europe, completing the mission his brother began. I can only imagine what this memorial means to SSgt Robert Fuchs and his family today.
Cpl Elias Lopez gave his life in close combat to free the people of the Philippines in the far off Pacific in World War II. His cousin, PFC Roman Correa, also served in World War II, but gave his life across the earth in what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called “the Great Crusade in Europe.” They were joined by SSgt Jose Riojas, who was also fighting to end the scourge of Nazi tyranny.
SSgt Riojas, incidentally, had a father who was a combat wounded Veteran of World War I, serving in France. His brother, Jesus, enlisted in the Navy and was serving in the Pacific at the same time Jose was in Europe. His youngest brother, Felipe, enlisted in the Air Force and served in the military for over twenty years. In fact, his great grandfather, Placido Olivarri, was a scout in Sam Houston’s army during the Texas War for independence. The latest in a great Texas family of patriots, SSgt Riojas’ nephew, LtCol Steven Ramos, USMCR, recently returned from service in Iraq. God Bless the Riojas Family.
After the defeat of Nazism and Fascism in World War II, America and her allies faced new challenges from Communist expansion across the Pacific. Machinist’s Mate Edmund Vorwerk answered his nation’s call during the Korean War, only to give his life heroically rescuing his buddies trapped below decks. MM Vorwerk twice brought unconscious men to safety, only to succumb on his third attempt to find an remaining brother shipmates in danger. Where does our Country find men like this??....Ladies and Gentlemen, right here in Pflugerville, Texas.
We also remember LCpl Doug Smith, a brave Marine who served two combat tours in Vietnam, only to lose his life in an accident on his way home from the war zone, leaving a young wife and daughter behind.
I can also attest first had that this spirit is present in the latest generation of Texans defending our freedom.
I had the honor and privilege of serving with Sgt Byron Norwood, one of the nine men we honor and remember here today. A man who, like both of his grandfathers before him, demonstrated his love of country by enlisting in the Marine Corps. Byron’s Grandfather, Jake Aston, who is with us here today, survived three island campaigns in the Pacific. As I was saying, as a Marine, like his forefathers, Byron served his nation in combat overseas. Ultimately, he sacrificed all, giving his life to save others in danger. In this sense, Sgt Norwood embodies in today’s generation the spirit, valor, patriotism and sacrifice we recognize for all our nine Fallen Heroes of Pflugerville on the Veterans’ Day, 2005.
In June of last year, Byron and I and the nearly one thousand Marines and Sailors in our Battalion conducted a pre-deployment memorial hike up to the ridgeline above our camp in southern California. As we strode purposefully up the steep trail, each of us carried a rock in our hand to place up at our 1st Marines Regimental Memorial, a memorial dedicated to the men from our Regiment who had given their lives serving their country in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
117 of the men that marched that day had voluntarily extended their enlistments to stay with their buddies and to return on a second tour of combat duty in Iraq (many were on their third consecutive overseas deployment in less than two years) – Byron was one of these men. Men who had already more than done their duty, and could certainly have left uniformed service to pursue the blessings of liberty, knowing that they had served their country honorably in a time of war.
Why did these men extend to stay?
Perhaps the answer lies in the passing of the folded flag from one generation to the next along with the tradition of responsibility and sacrifice since the birth of our nation.
Indeed, joining us at the top of Horno Ridge were distinguished Veterans of our storied Battalion, the “Thundering Third”. Men who, like those we honor here today, had served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Veterans in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, who had traveled from across the country to spend timed with us and our families,.. steadying and reassuring us that “our” generation was more than up to the great challenges ahead.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot tell you in words how much their presence and support meant to me, to Byron, and to all of the members of our Battalion. I cannot tell you in words how much your presence here today, and the support of the American people across our great nation means to our Veterans and their families who have served, and who continue to serve.
Deploying with happy hearts, believing in our mission, and buoyed by the support of a grateful nation to include “those who have gone before,” our Battalion spent the next five months in the heat of the Iraqi Summer engaged in what we call stability and security operations… Byron trained Iraqi Special Forces soldiers during this time as part of an energetic security and civil affairs effort to make our part of Iraq a better place.
Meanwhile, lawless elements, including many international terrorists, had taken the nearby City of Fallujah hostage. One year and four days ago today, our Battalion crossed the line of departure, tasked to clear the western half of Fallujah. This, in order to break an eight-month stranglehold, which these terrorists were using to export violence and intimidation throughout the Al Anbar Province and beyond. In the terrible fires of that tormented city, Sgt Byron Norwood and 22 of his Marine brothers in the Thundering Third were lost to us.
In fact, as I speak these words to you, our Battalion is again hard at work bringing the hope of a better life for the people of Iraq. The Thundering Third is on patrol in the western Al Anbar Province …and may I ask you all to please keep these men and their families and all of those deployed around the world in you prayers.
As David Hackett Fisher so ably describes in his book “Washington’s Crossing”, but for the patriotism, valor and sacrifice of a few, we might not have had a United States of America.
From President George Washington’s time to the present, as we are vividly reminded by these awesome bronze statues here today, the cost of freedom has been high.
President Washington called this loss the “debt of honor”, and on this Veterans” Day, and at this beautiful, fitting and hallowed memorial park, let us remember that we are indebted to no one more than to the men and women who serve…and, all too often, sacrifice… to protect and defend our Nation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today we honor and remember fallen sons, absent heroes, those who cannot be with us physically to share this sunshine, this fresh clean wind upon our faces and the beautiful vista of our marvelous land. We are forever in their debt and they are with us yet, as we will never, ever forget them.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless this great country and Semper Fidelis.
And now, could I please ask the families of our Fallen Heroes to join me in unveiling our memorial sculptures.