ROCHESTER, WI — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will honor the fallen at a Memorial Day ceremony in Rochester, Wisconsin. Following are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you very much. I’ve been going to this parade for years. It is a wonderful tradition. And every year I struggle to find the words that will express not only my gratitude, but my deep admiration. It is a noble thing to die for your country—a selfless thing, a gallant thing. And that, I think, is the reason we mark this day. Do we pray for the fallen? Yes. Do we honor their loved ones? Of course. Do we stop and think back to all the battles they fought and all the victories they won—all the suffering and the sacrifice? Absolutely. But it is not enough to recognize the cost of freedom. Today, we celebrate the people who paid it: the flesh-and-blood people who chose to enlist, who chose to fight, who chose to die.
And we ask ourselves: Would we make the same choice? Why did they?
What goes through your head when you are about to die for your country? Do you think about everything you’re leaving behind: your family, your friends, your life? Or do you think about what’s to come: your faith, heaven, God? Or maybe you do the right thing without even thinking about it. Maybe that, in fact, is the definition of character. The older I get, the more I think that you don’t plan for greatness. You don’t study or prepare for it. You just can’t. Instead, God summons it from within you.
And it is that openness to God’s grace—that acceptance of His will—that, I think, we admire most of all.
Sometimes this acceptance seems hard, if not impossible, to understand. But then there are the hundreds of veterans in our community—hundreds of people who were just as willing to lay down their lives for the rest of us. This is a day to ask them about the hardships they endured—so we can begin to understand. I think of my longtime friend Andy Speth. He served two tours in Iraq. He will tell you how, in his first tour, he would wait all week to make a 10-minute phone call back home. They all did. And they say it without a hint of bitterness or resentment. They were glad to give. They were happy to serve. They remind us that character is not just something we can understand; it is something we can aspire to.
I will close with this: I think it is fitting that a white horse led this year’s parade just as one did more than 150 years ago—because this tradition really does go all the way back to the Civil War. It makes me think of a man who served in that war: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.—one of the most famous judges to sit on the Supreme Court. He lived a long life—until he was 93 years old. And yet every year, on the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, he would raise a toast in memory of his fallen comrades. To me, it symbolizes the greatness of America—that in this country, the rich and the wise will bow to the brave.
Today, all of us bow to the people who died for our country. Thank you and God bless you.