Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who commanded troops in war, delivered a powerful speech honoring fallen service members at Arlington Cemetery on Monday.
“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them,” he began his remarks, which were followed by President Trump.
“We gather here today with the shared attitude of gratitude,” he said.
Mattis was also joined at the ceremony by fellow Marine commanders, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and retired Gen. John Kelly, now currently the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly lost his son, Marine 1st Lieutenant Robert Kelly, in the Afghanistan War in 2010.
Mattis’s remarks held special poignance since he has recently commanded troops in the post-9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. The cemetery’s Section 60 holds many of those who have fallen in those wars.
“More than a century ago, this plot of land was a plantation on the Potomac. Scenic, but hardly sacred. Now, these fields hold the greatest treasure of our nation. America’s courageous, dead. Those who today we pause to remember,” he said.
Mattis, who is known as the “Warrior Monk” and is himself known for memorable sayings, borrowed from great figures, including Plato and Supreme Court justices, to pay homage to the men and women who have died protecting the country.
“Not far from here lies the marker of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a Civil War infantry veteran, who later rose to become a Supreme Court justice. Holmes said those who serve in our military have hearts that are touched with fire. Having known great things, he said, they are content with silence,” he said.
“If you have ever known one of the fallen, you have known greatness. But it is hard to be content with their silence, for we miss them. The empty chair on a holiday, empty every day. The photograph that goes wherever you do. The picture fades, but the person in it does not,” he said.
Mattis said their fighting spirit persists, passed down through the ranks, and echoes in those who fight on today “on the air, on land, and at sea.”
Quoting Plato, he said, “In a world awash with change, some things stand firm. Some things are as Plato said: ‘Good and true and beautiful.'”
He also urged families to turn suffering into meaning.
“The kid on the line who never got a chance to grow old will always be there to teach us that suffering has meaning if it is accepted out of love for others,” he said.
“To the families of the fallen, both here and at home, no words will ease your pain. But I beg you, let it have meaning. Unite your sorrow to their awesome purpose. People do grace places, but people also grace people. We are blessed by our time with those now asleep, the mighty and the gentle.”
“Let us share their story with others,” he said. “Then, like the poet, we all can say,” he added:
still in honored rest,
Your truth and valor wearing.
The bravest are the tenderest,–
The loving are the daring.