John Kerry Joins Veterans, families to Dedicate
Massachusetts Vietnam Memorial
Tuesday, June 11, 2002

For all of us this is a moment of special pride and remembering. For those who served in Vietnam it is that and much more.

Seven letters – that’s all it takes to make the word Vietnam.

Vietnam. But it is much more than a word. More than the name of a country. It is a period in time — it is a one word encapsulation of history — a one word summary of a war gone wrong even as young Americans in uniform sought to do what was right, of families divided yet united by love, generations divided, a nation divided yet in a deeper sense united by it’s ideals. Vietnam, it carries in its seven letters all the confusion, bitterness, love, sacrifice and nobility of America’s longest war. It is a one word all encompassing answer to questions: What happened to him? Where was he injured? When did he change? Say the word Vietnam to a veteran and he or she can smell the wood burning fires, hear the AK-47's and B-52's, see the pajama clad Viet Cong and the helicopters darting across the sky — you can feel all the emotions of young men and women who in the end were fighting as much for their love of each other as for the love of country that brought them there in the first place.

Today we come here to remember and to memorialize forever all that was Vietnam and all that is our country. In doing so we do not just list the names and remember those who gave their lives. We remember and celebrate what they were and remain part of — a great nation committed to peace, individual liberty, to freedom — a nation which outlined in the writing of a constitution fundamental rights which belong to every one of its citizens and which we remember today are worth dying for. Today -- because of those whose memories are emblazoned forever in the Place of Names, we celebrate rights and aspirations that are bigger than any individual and which each of us as individuals are willing to defend with life itself.

We celebrate the nobility of young Americans willing to go thousands of miles from home to fight for the notion that in the final measurement someone else’s freedom was connected to our own.

It doesn’t matter that politics got in the way. It doesn’t matter that leaders remained wedded to their own confusion. Nothing — not politics, not time, not outcome — nothing will ever diminish one iota the contributions of these brothers and sisters, nothing can ever lessen the courage with which they waged war. Nothing reduces the magnitude of their sacrifice, nothing can take away the quality of their gift to their nation.

We consecrate this memorial with the determination to set the record straight. Politicians may have lost the larger objectives, our allies may not have lost the ability to hold on by themselves, but in 10 years American soldiers never lost a major battle.

The Vietnam soldiers, airmen and sailors fought with as much conviction, as much commitment, as much courage and as much selfless sacrifice as soldiers in any war. And they did so with love of country and love of fellow soldiers as great as any despite our nations political divisions at home and the difficult circumstances they were required to confront. This memorial will forever remind the generations to come of that special spirit – the special bond of soldier to country and soldier to soldier.

And we remember today also with pride at the outcome — that for our generation of Veterans the war did not end when we came home. For us the fight continued — the recognition honoring our deeds came when Veterans pushed for it — Agent Orange, outreach centers, extension of the GI Bill — increased funding for Veterans Affairs , these all happened because Veterans remembered their brothers and sisters and never stopped fighting to keep faith with the promise to veterans.

We also memorialize those soldiers captured by the enemy who did not return and those we’ve yet to account for. One of the things I remain proudest of is that we initiated the most extensive, exhaustive accounting for the missing or captured in all the history of human warfare. No nation has ever gone to such lengths to remember and to account their missing. Today -- because of the veteran of Vietnam -- when we send our young men and women into harms way, never again will we allow anyone to be left behind will never take so long to find and bring every one home. The truth is that every advance we’ve made on behalf of our Veterans has been the result of the commitment of Veterans and particularly to each other and their vows never to give up the fight. This memorial itself — as with the Wall in Washington — grew out of that spirit.

That spirit bonded men and women together — making us more than we were when we left for Vietnam, and didn’t diminish once we had returned. One of those soldiers whose name is inscribed on the Place of Names is Edward Wolfendale. On February 24, 1969, 19 year-old Marine Lance Corporal Wolfendale, just 17 days from coming home, was at the tail end of a three day firefight. Only one bunker of Viet Cong remained when a group of Marines suddenly got trapped in a depression in front of it.

Ed Wolfendale was safely away from the bunker and could have easily stayed there and kept his head down. Instead, like so many of our comrades, Ed thought little for his own safety and acted — he grabbed a Light Anti-Tank Assault Weapon and charged into the line of fire. On his way, Ed took a direct hit and bled to death in the field. When the men in his platoon saw what Wolfie had done, they immediately followed his lead and soon overtook the bunker.

This could have been where the story ended — but that spirit that brings us here today had a hand in this story. A member of Ed Wolfendale’s platoon, Tom Smith, saw Ed go over that hill and was in the wave of men who followed him. Though he didn’t really know Ed Wolfendale, Tom never forgot what he did. After he returned home, Tom spent the next thirty years searching for Ed’s family to ensure they knew how he died.

He didn’t know his real name, he just knew Wolfie, so it wasn’t until recently that he was able to track down his family. To his shock, Tom learned that not only did Ed’s family not know how he died, he discovered that Wolfie had only received a Purple Heart. A few years back, because Tom Smith never forgot his comrade, Ed Wolfendale’s 82-year-old mother Stella and five of his six brothers accepted the Silver Star on his behalf.

Tom Smith remembered a man he barely knew, and like so many of the Veterans who returned from the war, he remembered his brother.

We dedicate this memorial to Ed Wolfendale and the 1,537 men and women who didn’t return from Vietnam, who knew the Lord’s words that “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” And so, it is in that spirit that we memorialize today all who fought for our families — for our nation.