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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Governor of Oregon: Speech - Memorial Service for Sgt. Donald Walters

Memorial Service for Sgt. Donald Walters
Governor Theodore R. Kulongoski
Salem Armory
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Thank you Colonel Meyers for your introduction and for the spiritual comfort you give to our soldiers and their families. I remember from my own experiences as a soldier how important it was to hear from - and talk to - a chaplain, and to know that even in a war zone God's grace is all around.

Sgt. Donald Walters was not even born when President Kennedy told this nation: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Forty years and a handful of months after President Kennedy spoke those words, terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Most of us will always remember where we were on September 11th. Many of us will remember what we did on September 11th. But very few of us will ever be able to say what we did for our country after September 11th.

Not Sgt. Walters.

Until he died on the battlefield, he could - if he chose to - say to his loved ones and this grateful nation that he was not only moved to mourn that sad day, he was moved to act. And now that we - his family, friends, and fellow citizens - mourn him, we can say to each other that history will continue to tell his heroic story - even if Donald Walters can no longer tell it himself.

Sgt. Walters served his nation with courage and honor before September 11th. He went into harms way during the first Gulf War - and came back from that war to raise a family and share the fruits of this bountiful land. So if after the Gulf War, Sgt. Walters decided to never again leave his home and family to defend freedom in a faraway place, no one would ever complain. He had already given more, risked more and sacrificed more than all but a small percentage of Americans.

But Donald Walters was a patriot who did not measure the debt he owed his country by how much he had already paid. He measured what owed by a different standard. His own standard - rooted in duty, love of country, and service to others. And so he went off to war a second time, with the same courage, the same valor, and the same commitment to defending freedom.

But not the same homecoming.

We now know that Sgt. Walters died by ambush, along with other soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company. This is the terrible price - the unforgiving price - of war. But I don't think Donald Walters would want us to dwell on how he died. Although I never had the honor of meeting Sgt. Walters, I believe deeply that he would want us to focus on how he lived - and the principles he lived by.

They were the principles that made him stand out from the crowd because they were all about standing up. Standing up for his country - and its values. Standing up for his fellow soldiers. Standing up for the oppressed. And doing all of this while leading by example and encouraging everyone he knew and loved to be strong in character - and strong in the belief that American values are worth fighting for.

I pray that these principles - and Sgt. Walters' devotion to them - will help sustain his wife, Stacie, his parents, Arlene and Norman, his sister Kimberly, and his three young daughters. To each of you I say: Donald Walters was the very best this state had to offer. And today - although you can no longer hold him - we hold you in our collective arms, and pray with our collective voices that you will find some measure of peace in knowing that he died a hero, but did not die in vain.

In life Donald Walters was a father, son, friend and member of the heroic - and now legendary - 507th Maintenance Company. Except in memory, he cannot be these things anymore. Yet it's easy to think of Sgt. Walters and the other fallen soldiers of the 507th as - in the words of the Bible - 'lions in secret places.' Like a lion, Donald Walters was a fighter and watchful guardian - a true brave heart who was forever willing to serve his country, just the way President Kennedy asked. But unlike the lion - Donald Walters is not in a secret place.

We know exactly where he is. He is in our hearts. He is in our prayers. He is in God's hands. And he is certainly at peace.

Thank you.

Governor of Oregon: Speech - Memorial Service for Sgt. Donald Walters

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