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American Servicemen Killed in Iran Eulogy at the National Memorial Service

May 09, 1980

It's difficult not to say "amen."

We come here today to honor eight courageous men and to share in some small way the burden of the grief of their loved ones. When I approached the meeting, shortly before this ceremony began, with the families of those who have lost their lives, I did it with some degree of concern and trepidation. But as I approached them, every one, and we put our arms around each other, invariably they said, "God bless you, Mr. President. We are proud, Mr. President," and either Richard or Harold or Lynn or Charles or Joel or John or Dewey or George were "honored to serve their country."

But even for those of us who know that God has a purpose for each human life, it's hard to accept the loss of these brave young men in the very peak of their life and their career. Yet we know that it is not the length of a life that determines its impact or its meaning or its quality, but the depth of its commitment and the height of its purpose.

They came from California, Connecticut, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Virginia; two were Georgians, from Dublin and Valdosta.

They did not ask for recognition. They only asked for an opportunity to serve, often at a sacrifice and under very difficult conditions, far from the people they loved and often very distant from the very civilization which they were sworn and committed to protect. They chose a life of military service at a time when it offered very little glory in their land, when their award had to come from knowing that they had done a necessary and a dangerous job and done it well.

They volunteered for this mission knowing its importance, and they also knew its risks. They did so not because they cared too little for life—they wanted to live it out to a full old age—but they did it because they cared so much for the lives of our hostages and for the right of our people to enjoy the freedom for which this Nation was formed.

It's fitting that we should remember them here in this place where Americans have long paid tribute to those who died for our country—those who were known and honored, those who were unknown; those who lie in unmarked graves, even across the sea, and those who are buried here. This very land once belonged to General Robert E. Lee. Like these eight men, he was a soldier whose affection for his home and family called him to a life of service that often meant hardship, loneliness, and long separation from those he loved and even from the Nation which. he most loved.

Robert E. Lee lived by the words that he wrote to his own son: "Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less." The airmen and marines we are honoring today demonstrated by their lives and finally by their deaths that they understood and subscribed to that austere and honorable creed.

The strength of our Nation has always lain in the ability of individual Americans to do what we must, each of us, each day, whatever our particular duty is. For the men we honor today, duty required both daring and quiet courage. They were willing to face the relentless desert and the angry mobs, if necessary, to free fellow Americans who can be accused of doing nothing more than their own duty in a hostile place.

We stand here today, surrounded by the graves of succeeding generations of Americans who performed their duty in the unending struggle to preserve our peace and our freedom. Like those who've gone before, these young men died to keep that ancient dream of human liberty alive. If we are to honor our dead, we must do it with our own lives. We must defend that same dream with all the strength and all the wisdom and all the courage that we can muster.

I speak for all Americans when I say to those who anonymously risk their lives each day to keep the peace and to maintain our military strength, and to the loved ones of those who died on the Iranian desert: Your risk, your suffering, your loss, are not in vain. I fervently pray that those who are still held hostage will be freed without more bloodshed, that all those who would use terror to impel innocent people will see the cruel futility of their criminal acts.

To the families of the eight who died and to those who were injured, I extend the heartfelt sympathy of a proud and a grateful nation. Every American feels your loss. Every American shares your rightful pride in the valor and the dedication to duty of those who died in that dark desert night. Of such men as yours was our beloved country made, and of them is our beloved country preserved in freedom.

Note: The President spoke at 9:59 a.m. in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.

Jimmy Carter, American Servicemen Killed in Iran Eulogy at the National Memorial Service Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250155

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