WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- As I prepare to retire, I once again find myself reflecting on what it means to serve. Foremost in my thoughts are those who have risked their lives to preserve freedom and democracy. Even as we are hosting barbecues this weekend, or just enjoying extra time with our families, brave men and women are demonstrating their commitment to the United States and our way of life as they engage in military operations far from home.
Over the years, more than one million American Soldiers, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Marines and Airmen have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation. That number continues to grow. We owe these fallen warriors our gratitude and, though it can never truly be repaid, we should never forget that debt.
Take, for example, the Doolittle Raiders, who commemorated their 70th anniversary last month. Their mission was risky even as planned, but unexpected circumstances forced a difficult choice -- cancel the raid or launch early and risk running out of fuel. They chose to launch. The Raiders dropped their bombs, but as their fuel gauges dropped, they knew they could not reach their designated airfields. Only 73 of the 80 Raiders returned home, some after being held prisoner for more than three years. Although the strike caused relatively little physical damage, the selfless mission of those brave Airmen forced the Japanese to strategically re-position their forces and boosted the morale of America and its allies.
Indeed, our history is full of stories of ordinary people who displayed extraordinary heroism through their service. This Memorial Day, remember the ones those stories are about -- the sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who bravely served and died protecting our freedoms.