Remembering the fallen means honoring the nation’s unfinished work, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia May 28.

McDonough said speaking at a national cemetery was a somber reminder of the true meaning of Memorial Day.

“This day reminds us that we must never forget those men and women who stood ready to protect our freedom, our humanity and our democracy,” he said.

The secretary cited his personal experience with remembering Veterans. During his upbringing in Minnesota, McDonough’s teacher and mentor was John Samuelson, an Army Veteran buried at Fort Snelling. Coach Sam, as people called him, fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. During a 10th grade assembly, Samuelson told his story of landing at Normandy on D-Day.

“He told us about jumping from his craft, sinking in the saltwater because of the weight of his gear, and fellow soldiers dying on the bloody sand as they fought to defeat Nazi Germany,” McDonough said.

“On a beautiful day like today, and with a deepened sense of gratitude, I knelt at his gravesite last Thursday and told my hero that I had never forgotten the lessons he taught me about courage, about selfless service and sacrifice, and about the importance of honorable service to this nation,” the secretary said.

Marines from Marine Corps Base Quantico prepare for a 21-gun salute during the May 28, 2021, Memorial Day observance at Quantico National Cemetery.

Marines from Marine Corps Base Quantico prepare for a 21-gun salute during the May 28, 2021, Memorial Day observance at Quantico National Cemetery.

The secretary also cited several buried at Quantico. These included:

  • Hector Cafferata, a Korean War Veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.
  • William “Rich” Higgins, chief of a 75-member United Nations peace keeping force, killed by pro-Iranian Shiites.
  • James Brooks, one of the first African American recruits to join the Marine Corps and train at Montford Point.
  • Louis Lowery, who took a famous photo of Marines raising a flag on top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
  • Frederick Branch, the first black commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who served in World War II and in Korea.
  • Sailor Jamie Fallon, Soldier and Vietnam Veteran Donald Simmons, and Cheryle Sincock, wife of Chief Warrant Officer Five Craig W. Sincock, who all died in the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001.

“Their stories are the reasons we come back to these hallowed grounds,” McDonough said. “And behind every marker in this cemetery is a story worth knowing, worth remembering, worth emulating.”

McDonough said as spectators gathered, service members were busy defending the nation against threats to American ideals and democracy.

“Remembering means honoring the lives of those who fought for something greater than themselves, for a land they would never return to, for freedom many never even fully experienced themselves,” he said.

In addition to McDonough, U.S. Representatives Mark Takano and Rob Wittman spoke at the event.

Watch the event

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