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US envoy leads Memorial Day Ceremony, cites legacies of war heroes

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To honor the invaluable contribution of the soldiers who gave up their lives to fight for freedom, United States Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson shared her remarks today in the ceremony commemorating Memorial Day.

Below is the full text of her speech:

Good morning. It is an honor to join you today to pay tribute to uniformed service members from the United States and the Philippines who gave their lives defending our freedom.  

The Manila American Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 17,000  service members from the U.S. and Philippine militaries.  In addition, more than 36,000  men and women, American and Filipino, who went missing in action are memorialized in the engraved walls that surround us.  These grounds are also the final home for Czech, British, and Canadian service members, as well as others whose country of origin is not known. Today, we pause to reflect and remember all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.   

We mourn the loss of these thousands of men and women who selflessly acted on our behalf.  We are reminded that freedom comes at a great price and that it is a cherished shared value worth fighting and dying for.  

There are no words that could adequately capture our deep appreciation for the sacrifices these heroes made to uphold freedom across the globe.  In place of words, let’s  turn to their stories.  Today, I want to share two stories with you, those of Captain Thomas  E. McKnight and Chief Petty Officer Othello Bruun, both from my home state of Arkansas,  both memorialized on these hallowed grounds.   

Captain Thomas E. McKnight was the sixth of 11 children of Byron A. McKnight  and Viola L. Suddath.  He attended Southern Methodist University and joined the US Army  Chaplain Corps, and in January 1945, he landed on Luzon with the 1st Cavalry Division.  His unit fought its way to Manila, eventually liberating more than 3,000 civilian prisoners at the University of Santo Tomas, before it proceeded to participate in the encirclement of  Manila from the east.  It was on this mission that Chaplain McKnight was killed in action on  February 9, 1945. For acts of valor while in the service of his country, Chaplain McKnight was awarded the Silver Star and a Bronze Star. 

Othello Bruun was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, in 1903, and he joined the Navy in  1921, long before the Second World War began. Only a few hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, imperial Japanese forces also began bombing the Philippines. Bruun was then serving with the Naval Supply Corps in Cavite. He showed extraordinary dedication to his duty as Chief Pay Clerk, as immortalized in his Navy Cross citation. The citation credits  Bruun’s “extraordinary heroism” on multiple occasions during the war.  In 1941, he braved bombings and burning buildings in Manila to ensure his fellow sailors received the necessary funds to complete their missions. In 1942, as a quartermaster, he successfully hid supplies in the mountains of Cebu while under fire from Japanese ships.  Finally, in  December 1944, he was captured by the enemy and loaded onto one of the infamous “hell ships” for prisoners of war that sunk in Subic Bay.  Bruun’s remains were never recovered,  and he is memorialized here on the Walls of the Missing. 

The sacrifices made by brave service members like Thomas McKnight and Othello Bruun left a lasting legacy in the form of a strong alliance that has helped to create peace and prosperity in the region.  As we reflect on this legacy, let us also remember that each grave marker here and each name written on these walls represents a person, a story, and a family that dearly misses their loved ones.  Let us learn their stories, and let us honor their legacies.

Thank you to our colleagues from the American Battle Monuments Commission not only for hosting this Memorial Day Ceremony, but also for your work maintaining this resting place for American and Filipino heroes.  I am moved by your commitment to continually honor the legacies of these heroes.  Earlier this year I was accompanied by the Ambassadors of Israel and Canada, to preserve the memories of American-Jewish servicemen and women whose remains are interred here, by presiding over a solemn ceremony to appropriately change their grave markers to reflect their religion and heritage.  We honor their memories today, together with those of all who are memorialized on these hallowed grounds. 

To our Veterans and active-duty personnel, thank you for answering the “call to  duty.”  To our Veteran Service Organizations, thank you for your outstanding contribution to improving the lives of veterans here in the Philippines.  And finally, to the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, we offer our deepest gratitude to you and to your loved ones, who we honor today. 

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