Memorial Day Ceremony 2011, Las Vegas, NV

Keynote Speaker

Leonard Q. Gruppo Jr., EM PA-C, Major, USA

Good evening Admiral Moritsugu, distinguished guests, friends, fellow physician assistants and veterans. I am very honored to have this opportunity to share some thoughts with you in beautiful Las Vegas, on this Memorial Day.

Today, we carry on the tradition first begun after the Civil War, to honor military men and women who have died in the service of our nation, the greatest nation ever conceived in the history of the world.

Yet, we cannot hollow the ground of their sacrifice more than those brave men and women have already done. They have given their lives so this nation may prosper and we may live in safety and freedom. Although it is far beyond our ability to add or detract from their sacrifice, we can remember them and the wars in which they fought and died.

Our rich history of war officially began on 19 April 1775 at Lexington and Concord where, warned by Paul Revere that night, 4000 irregular militiamen eventually gathered from across the countryside and forced the retreat to Boston of almost 2000 British regulars. 10 militiamen were killed during the opening salvos of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, and 29 more as the Brits made their way back to their garrison in Boston. We prevailed then, and on through the war of 1812 to the Civil war, which tested whether our fledgling nation could long endure. The bloodiest battles of our entire history where fought during this war. The worst of which, where the casualties at the Battle of Antietam on 17 September 1862. They exceeded 23,000 and the dead numbered more than 3,600 in a single day.

The turning point in that war was at Gettysburg, July 1st through 3rd, 1863, and resulted in about 56,000 casualties, including about 6 thousand dead as brothers fought against each other. Today, that battlefield in Pennsylvania is decorated by monuments and flags, and is a moving reminder of the gravity of what transpired. There, you can feel the ghosts of the brave and noble men who fought each other from the Union and Confederate Armies, whispering quietly to you as the fighting continues to be replayed forever upon that battlefield. In 1865, the war ended, and over 360,000 lay dead, close to our World War Two total of over 405,000.

Later, World War I, the war to end all wars, was followed all too quickly by World War II. The D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944 was as brutal as Gettysburg on our American warriors. The next year, the battle for Okinawa, began in April 1945 and lasted for 3 months. It was the bloodiest of the Pacific Campaign. On a mountainous island of volcanic rock, 360 miles south of Japan, almost 13,000 Americans died, with the toll split nearly evenly between the three services, with the Army and Marines slogging it out on foot and the Navy suffering heavy losses from Kamikaze attacks. It was this high death toll that convinced our leaders to use the atomic bomb, instead of a direct assault, on the Japanese main land.

We continued to fight through the Korean War and then Vietnam. During a time of great social unrest, the Vietnam War waged for 20 long years resulting in over 50,000 American dead. And so that their sacrifice will Never be Forgotten, each one of their names are carved in the granite of the famous memorial to that war, in Washington D.C.

Shortly thereafter, our nation changed military service from the draft to an all-volunteer force. Since then, the casualties have been far less and our forces contain more career professionals than ever, but this comes at the cost of a greater degree of national detachment from the human toll and sacrifice of military families.

My experiences during 24 years of active Army service include some of the more recent chapters in our country’s book of war. From spending months with the Egyptians and Syrians in Desert Shield and Desert Storm to high in the mountains on the Pakistan border when Corporal Pat Tillman was killed by friendly-fire, and more recently in Baghdad Iraq at the start of the “Surge” when an assassination attempt on the Mayor of Sadr City brought him to our surprisingly well-equipped make-shift “Emergency Room”, aka an “Aid station”. We were set up at a tiny outpost on the edge of Sadr City and came under daily attack while we systematically cleared every building in a large area of the city around us. I could talk about those wounded and killed by IEDs, snipers, rockets and ambushes, but my personal experiences pale in the context of why we have gathered this Memorial Day.

So, I’d like to take some of the short time we have left together, to remember those who have died in the Global War on Terrorism. Thus far, 6,014 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have given their lives and more than forty-three thousand have been wounded, many of them grievously wounded. Among the dead are 6 Army Physician Assistants: CPT Sean Grimes, CPT Anthony Garcia, CPT Kafele Sims, CPT Cory Jenkins, CW2 (Ret.) Michael Grant Cahill who bravely tried to stop Nidal Hasan with a chair, the only weapon available to him, during the attack at Fort Hood in November 2009, and CPT Michael Cassidy.

Another is PFC Juan Restrepo, a combat medic who left such an impression upon his unit, the 2nd BN 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, that they named their outpost in the rugged Korengal Valley, in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, after him. Later, a book and movie about the actions of that unit where released, both bearing his name, “Restrepo”.

In all, 272 medical personnel have died including 168 from the Army. Most recently, CPT Joshua McClimans was killed on 22 April. These personnel include doctors, surgeons, nurses, physician assistants, administrators, MEDEVAC Pilots and crews, and our fearless medics. They include every rank from Private to Colonel, every race and color, both men and women. They are the bravest of the brave having chosen the most-noble profession of caring for America’s best sons and daughters on the battlefield.

For the next several minutes, I’d like to show you their names and faces. The pictures may be a little blurry but they were the best available to me. We’ll pause for a time on each slide so you can read a bit about them and I will not speak while we take this time to reflect.

(move off stage, go through the list with pictures, hold each slide for 15 seconds)

These men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice. Though all of us who have worn the uniform are sworn to do the same, they where the ones chosen. Some of them I know and some were my teammates like MSG Jefferson Davis, the first medical serviceman killed in the Global War on Terrorism. He was on special assignment protecting Hamid Karzi in Afghanistan, when a J-Dam bomb fell short of its intended target. Another, not on this list, SFC Robert Deeks was killed in Somalia many years ago after he took my place on that mission so I could attend PA school. The Hummer he was in, struck an anti-tank mine. The area was too hot for evacuation and as he sat mortally wounded, he heroically directed the medical care of his teammates until he died 2 ½ hours later. Both were medics from 2nd of the 5th Special Forces Group, and my friends.

I know that many of you also have comrades, family or friends that you remember on this Memorial Day. Our nation is fortunate to have people like them, and today we acknowledge our gratitude for those brave men and women who answered the call to arms and stand ready, every day, all around the world, to visit harm upon our enemies, just as the Navy Seals so vividly demonstrated in Pakistan, so that we may sleep peacefully and safely through the night.

And let us also thank God, that our medical personnel stand ready to care for the wounded, anytime, anywhere, no matter the danger. Ready to give comfort to the dying and compassion, hope and aid to the living. God Bless all of them and their families, God Bless you, my fellow PA veterans, and God Bless these United States of America.

(step in the clear and salute the crowd, hold the salute briefly)