Last week, U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) delivered remarks on the Senate floor and paid tribute to fallen service members ahead of Memorial Day.
Young shared the story of Sergeant Charles Garrigus, a native Hoosier who paid the ultimate price during the Korean War and never returned home to Indiana.
“The rows of headstones speak to us of sacrifice for common good; they remind us the price at which our freedom was won; of the too-often smallness of our divisions; of the many reasons for faith in our fellow Americans, no matter how strained our bonds be; of the blessings we share, even if they are obscured; and of our ability to pass through any trial, no matter how daunting.
“When we listen to them, I believe, we will lift our heads from today’s anxieties and face the future optimistically. As the story of Sergeant Garrigus shows, we Americans have refused to let far greater obstacles deter us, or accepted that more difficult problems can’t be solved,” said Senator Young.
To watch the full speech, click here.
Young’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
Mr. President, what defines an American soldier? Is it courage under fire? Physical strength? Great victories on the battlefield?
No. Above all else, it is sacrifice.
It is the selflessness to surrender one’s life so that a set of values will endure…not only for the living, but for generations to come.
It is the faith that the future of this nation is more important than the life of one of its citizens: the cause of liberty is greater than any individual.
Be that as it may, every fallen hero must be remembered, honored.
That is why in the spring we decorate their graves with flowers and the flag they fought for.
Those headstones made of marble or granite are often indistinguishable from a distance. Fittingly: their sacrifice was the same, no matter how fabled or forgotten the battle, no matter in victory or defeat.
And though we rightly revere our glorious triumphs…the trenches of Yorktown, the hills of Gettysburg, the fields of the Marne, the beaches of Normandy… it is often in America’s darkest hours, in the face of disaster, when we see the virtues of America’s warriors most clearly.
So it was with Sergeant Charles Garrigus, a farm boy from the town of Francisco in southern Indiana.
Growing up during the Depression he developed a passion and skill for motors, driving trucks and tractors across the Hoosier countryside. It was why he was drawn to the Army, why after his discharge at the end of World War II, he reenlisted, serving as a motor pool sergeant in Japan.
He was scheduled to return to Indiana on June 26th, 1950. One day before that, on the 25th, the Korean War began. And so he again answered the call.
After the initial setbacks, the North Korean People’s Army pushing U.S. forces south, by the end of the summer the North Koreans were in retreat, Americans were advancing north up the peninsula.
The end of the war was in sight.
General Douglas MacArthur divided his forces. The Eighth Army went from Seoul to Pyongyang.
From there it would link with Ten Corps. Sergeant Garrigus’ force, the 7th Army Division, 32 Regiment, was assigned to guard the Ten Corps flank.
Once connected they would march towards the Chinese Frontier, reunite Korea and end the war.
The soldiers might be home for Christmas.
Then came the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where one hundred thousand Chinese soldiers attacked.
The Americans, isolated and spread out across the Chosin Reservoir were surrounded and trapped. It was a disaster, one of the worst in the history of America’s military.
The fighting continued for two more nights before Sergeant Garrigus’ regiment consolidated with another larger unit, led by Colonel Allen MacLean.
On the morning of the 29th, their 60 vehicle convoy made its way to MacLean’s perimeter. The Chinese fire was so heavy though that two trucks filled with supplies were left on the opposite of the bridge leading to MacLean’s men.
When Sergeant Garrigus looked across the bridge and saw Chinese soldiers approaching the vehicles, he dashed, on foot, across the bridge, reached the first van, and drove it back across the ice covered bridge.
Then he got out, ran back across the bridge again, jumped in the second truck and drove that one across American lines too.
Just as he made it over the engine stalled out, but his fellow soldiers roared.
It was a shot of hope in a desperate hour.
After 80 hours of attacks, the situation had grown so dire that on the morning of the 30th, the Americans determined to break out and drive over mountain roads to the safety of the Marine base at Hagaru-ri at the southern end of the reservoir.
They loaded what rations and supplies they had left, along with the wounded, into 35 trucks and jeeps and prepared to set out across the narrow mountain roads that led to the Marines.
Before they departed, Chinese forces commandeered the American’s defensive machine guns posts.
Sergeant Garrigus rallied several other soldiers, fought off the Chinese and retook the weapons, turning them on the enemy, freeing up the column of vehicles to depart.
The way was treacherous, along rutted ice-covered roads. The formation was disorganized, scattered by steady Chinese gunfire.
With Sergeant Garrigus at its head, the convoy finally drew near the Marine base at Hagaru-ri.
What was once a 35 vehicle convoy was now 15. The trucks and jeeps were full of bullet holes. But the final run was at hand.
With mortar blasts exploding along its sides, Sergeant Garrigus guided the convoy forward, Hagaru-ri was five miles away, just in reach.
Then a tremendous blast of machine guns erupted. The lead vehicle veered off the road and smashed into a ditch.
Sergeant Garrigus lay dead behind the wheel. The entire convoy ground to a final halt. The surviving soldiers were at the mercy of the Chinese.
Sergeant Charles Garrigus never returned home to Indiana. His name is among the missing, the ones who answered their country’s call and never came home.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service and sacrifice.
Though his mission was doomed, his death was not in vain. The fighting at Chosin Reservoir distracted the Chinese army long enough to allow the army to successfully retreat south, the longest retreat in American history.
He and his brothers fought like hell, through hell, their chances of victory, even survival, were remote. They didn’t fight for themselves, they fought for their countrymen, living and generations away. For the ideal of self-government.
On Memorial Day we honor all those who have died in service to America, in defense of that ideal.
Let us not mistake the stillness of the patriot graves with silence though.
The rows of headstones speak to us of sacrifice for common good; they remind us the price at which our freedom was won; of the too-often smallness of our divisions; of the many reasons for faith in our fellow Americans, no matter how strained our bonds be; of the blessings we share, even if they are obscured; and of our ability to pass through any trial, no matter how daunting.
When we listen to them, I believe, we will lift our heads from today’s anxieties and face the future optimistically. As the story of Sergeant Garrigus shows, we Americans have refused to let far greater obstacles deter us, or accepted that more difficult problems can’t be solved.
Months after his death at the Chosin Reservoir, Sergeant Garrigus’ parents received a note of condolence from General MacArthur. In it, he hoped that the loss of their son in defense of his country offered “some measure of comfort.”
The letter also spoke of the Sergeant’s “devotion to duty, at the cost of all he held dear.”
Eloquent words or well-meaning gestures, on Memorial Day or any day, have small power to comfort those left behind.
But we can take more than a measure of comfort and should be eternally grateful that from our founding to today, there have always been Americans willing to keep us safe and free at the cost of all they hold dear.
May God bless and keep them in His arms.