Today we are gathered in the shadows of our university's most sacred place to share in perhaps the most solemn duty of an institution and a nation: honoring those who gave their lives in service to our country.
This is a particularly poignant occasion because we are recognizing members of our family, the Duke University family. Men and women who walked this campus before us, who probably walked this very path on their way to class, or the library, or a concert, or basketball game.
They were students then, not heroes, young women and men who came to Duke from all parts of this country to learn and grow and form their hopes and dreams. And no doubt their education transformed them, as it has transformed generations of Duke students. When they left the comfortable security of this campus for the challenges and uncertainties of the larger world, they were shaped by their experiences of this campus and their relationships with teachers, mentors and friends, as they helped shape Duke in turn. We recognize in them the belief in putting service before self that is at this university's heart.
Duke is proud to honor the graduates who gave their lives in defense of this country and its ideals. And we are humbled to honor their families, many of them here with us today, who live with a pride and loss we can only begin to imagine. On behalf of the students, faculty, staff and alumni of Duke University, I offer our gratitude and profound respect.
Introduction of Secretary Shinseki
It is now my honor to introduce our special guest, a decorated veteran, educator and I'm proud to say a Duke Alumnus, Secretary of Veterans Affairs the Honorable Eric Shinseki.
No introduction of Secretary Shinseki can begin without first mentioning his long and distinguished military career. A retired four-star Army General, Secretary Shinseki began his military service upon graduating from West Point in 1965. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and was awarded the Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained during combat. Over the next thirty years he excelled at a series of strategic and administrative positions at home and abroad, culminating in his appointment as Army Chief of Staff in 1999, a post he held until his retirement in 2003. For his service to our country he was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
In addition to his distinguished career as an officer, Secretary Shinseki is also an educator, having taught English literature, a subject close to my heart, at West Point after graduating from Duke with a Masters degree in English.
Since taking the reins of a government agency that is responsible for the well-being of a staggering 23 million men and women who have proudly served their country, Secretary Shinseki has ushered in an expansion of higher education benefits for recent veterans, including many who are currently attending Duke, and has worked to improve access to quality healthcare, reduce administrative backlogs, and address the specific needs of the wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
We are deeply honored to have Secretary Shinseki with us to honor his fellow Duke Alumni who gave their lives in service to our country. I cannot think of anyone who better understands the sacrifices they have made and the significance of the 54 names newly added to our memorial plaques. Please join me in welcoming Secretary Shinseki.