Captain Mark Turner Shares Moving Words at Greenwich’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance

Captain Mark Turner’s Keynote Speech on 77th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor:

Thank you for that gracious introduction. After 30+ years I have earned a few ranks and title, but I would like to start out with the title of which I am most proud: son of World War II veteran electrician’s mate First Class Robert and Shirley Turner.

My father enlisted in the Navy using his brother’s birth certificate at the age of 16. He enlisted after a family friend from town died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. I am confident he and my mother are looking down this afternoon from Heaven with pride to say it is humbling to be here on the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, in the company of men and women of the greatest generation this nation has ever known would be an understatement.

Thank you for this once in a lifetime honor to the state and town leadership – legislators Floren, Bocchino, Frantz and Camillo, Selectmen Tesei and Toner, Admiral Weigold, Chief Heavey and the members in attendance of the Greenwich Veterans Council, especially Vince Masi and Archie Russell. It is an honor to have you here today.

Part of what defines a nation or a town is who or what it chooses to honor. Today, all of you emphasize the character of this magnificent town when you choose to never forget the date that forever changed the world.

On December 8, 1941 President Roosevelt in his request to Congress for a Declaration of War, made a last minute change to his speech. Originally the President was to say, “It was a date which will live on in world history.”

He altered the speech to the now forever quoted “A date which will live in infamy.”

An accurate portrayal of the attack – 19 ships were sunk, 2,335 service members and 68 civilians were killed, but what followed in the years to come was anything but infamous. In a matter of hours this nation experienced the worst mankind had to offer, followed by incomprehensible acts of courage where uncommon valor was a common virtue.

Today we honor and remember how an entire generation recalled the last few moments of peace, the horrors of war, and the faces of fallen friends and warriors.

As we remember those better angels who now rest in their watery grave onboard the USS Arizona, we pay tribute to those who gave their last full measure of devotion on that…infamous day.

If you have never been, the memorial is truly one of the most sacred crypts in this nation. It honors not just those who died but those who survived, and an entire American generation that lived through the war. The architecture of the memorial itself, represents the American spirit. It sags in the center to represent the low point of the attack. It rises on the edges to represent a complete renewal of our national strength. So powerful that 334 crew members who survived the attack chose their final resting place to be in the well barbette #4 on the USS Arizona with their shipmates.

Having experienced first hand the other infamous day in American history, 9/11, I recognize the enduring, agonizing question which never subsides in those who survived: Did their sacrifice matter? Why them and not me? To those from the greatest generation, we are in your debt for the freedoms we enjoy today. Your enduring legacy grows stronger with each passing year. You fought hard to crush totalitarian regimes.

And when that was done, you helped give birth to new democracies. You extended a hand, and in turn, made our enemies our friends. You unleashed a wave of freedom, consider that at the end of WWII, there were but 22 Democratic governments representing only 15 percent of the world’s population. Today there are 120 representing over 60 percent of all people. You understood that this country is safer and more secure when others are free.

At a prior remembrance day, my former chief of naval operations read a letter which the daughter of a USS Utah survivor, the ship was sunk by two Japanese torpedoes, wrote to her father. Many of us could have written something similar.

It reads as follows: “Dad, I am so very blessed that you were among the few who survived that dreadful day at Pearl Harbor. You never talked much about it, but through the years my ears were always open to get little pieces of what you had experienced. You have seen and been through more than my generation will ever know, and yet you smile, and never complain. The lessons that we all must endure from your great generation are endless!”

The lessons are endless. It is those endless lessons that we must always reflect upon and remember. We must honor those who live with the reminders of what happened on that fateful day, those courageous few who can say, “I served.”

Know that by your presence, you honor all who served both at Pearl Harbor and in the war that followed, those who can’t be here, and especially those who did not live that day to remember December 7. Your presence honors every act of bravery. We also recognize the thousands of stories that will never be told, the letters home never finished, the deck watches never turned over, the homecomings never enjoyed.

What we all affirm here this evening are the examples given by your generation which serve as a springboard of service for generations to follow. The enduring lessons you taught us are woven into our hearts and this nation’s history, especially in a time of war, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and other operations since December 7, 1941. You taught us to take a stand for righteousness and never back down.

I would like to use one example from operation Iraqi Freedom, you may have heard it before, but it has left an indelible mark in my mind of the how the traditions of service and sacrifice exemplified in Pearl Harbor are now a critical component to all service men and women. It was published a few years ago from then Lt Gen John Kelly with great humility I will try to capture his story and its meaning to this event tonight. When he was commander of US and Iraqi forces, two Marine Infantry Battalions were swapping out one preparing to go home and the other just starting its combat tour.

Two Marines, Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost in Ramadi, Iraq. It housed 50 Marines and 100 Iraqi Police. Corporal Yale was a dirt poor Marine from Virginia with a wife, daughter, mother and sister whom he was supporting on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand was a middle class Marine from Long Island. Except for the Marines, they may never have met. Their mission that day was to “Stand their post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.”

A few minutes later, a large truck, filled with explosives, approached the check point, speeding through the serpentine of concrete jersey barriers. as it approached, all Iraqi police men scrambled for protection. Although these two Marines had just met, Haerter and Yale made an instantaneous decision – the same one. Leaning into danger, weapons blazing, their final act of valor was attempting to stop harbinger of death, they stood their ground, they took a stand to protect others.

As you would guess, the truck detonated, killing them both. They saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers in arms that day. Their lives were no longer measured in years, but in shared valor, and higher purpose. Per regulations, American servicemen or women must corroborate their heroic act, but there were no American witnesses to the event – just Iraqi police.

General Kelly spoke individually to a half dozen police, all of whom told the same story. One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up he said, “I ran like any normal man would to save his own life.” What he learned, was our Marines and American servicemen and women are not normal. Choking past the emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God, no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”  “No sane man.” “They saved us all.”

For their final six seconds of bravery they were awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest decoration for valor in combat. That is the types of warriors who are standing their watch far away from their home this evening for all of us. Why General Kelly’s story this evening? Because there is a cost to peace won through the actions of this nation’s heroes.

From the infamous inferno of Pearl Harbor 77 years ago, rising from the ashes like the Phoenix, are generations of men and women who understand the meanings of words honor , courage and sacrifice. Their feats of honor will never be distant history. The lessons from heroes of Pearl Harbor have been passed down at the dinner table, from generation to generation. Whether from the oil slicks of Pearl Harbor to the sands of Ramadi. Regardless of background, rank or service, they continue to stand their ground, they do their duty, even die if necessary to protect this nation against all enemies foreign or domestic. To all veterans among us, especially those sitting on stage this evening, you have earned a tremendous gift maybe not all of you fully acknowledge.

There are people who will spend their entire lives forever wondering if their life had purpose, whether their life made a difference in the world. How blessed are you to never have to spend a single second wondering if that applies to you. Our nation lives under an umbrella of freedom because you chose to raise your right hand and defend this nation. Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Inchon, Denang, Baghdad, Kabul and countless places without a name. You placed service over self.

Senator Fred Thompson said it best: “This nation has shed more blood for the freedom of other people than all the nations in the history of the world combined.”

No, you never have to ask if your life had purpose. Our nation’s heroes like those from December 7, 1941, Dorie Miller, Peter Tomich, Edwin Hill to Haerter and Yale and so many others, are not born, they are created by the examples set by others.

“For greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The world War II veterans reminded future generations of leaders the importance of God, country and family; a life of service, whether in uniformed service or not is born out of mentoring and the example set by these world War II warriors, the members of the Greenwich Veterans Council, the police and firemen, by people like Stephanie Cowie who never let obstacles stand in their way. A special shout out to Captain Anselm Richards honoring his tour of duty in Ramadi where all under his charge came home safe. Hanna and Henry, you should be very proud of your father for what he did on behalf of this nation. Yes future generations listened to the life lessons necessary for excellence by those we honor this evening.

To the younger people in the audience, never forget this evening.

Take a moment and look around. You will soon be passed the torch of freedom. You will be the protector of a long line of tradition and freedom.

Soak it in because the future of our nation is soon in your hands. Never forget today for many reasons. Never forget the lessons and heritage bestowed on you by the sacrifice and honor of those who perished 77 years ago. Never forget the burden and the privilege of being a participating citizen of this town and the world’s greatest nation. Most importantly, never forget this moment because today you are surrounded by heroes. Those who chose to serve and rebuild a nation. They chose a life of honor. Your future is not built on self. You are blessed to have both a tradition and a future – ensure you look with a great deal of pride and confidence in both directions.

The world will be watching, but more importantly our better angels whose names are on the wall of the USS Arizona memorial will be watching. For you are their legacy. God bless each and every one of you, especially World War II veterans who when the world needed you the most rose up and rescued humanity. And finally, may God bless those carrying the torch of freedom today, in far away lands at this very moment. Let us always remember December 7, 1941! And in the words of the Navy hymn, ‘O, hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.”

One final personal message to Chief Heavey:

Go Navy Beat Army!