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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate to commemorate yesterday’s 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. entering World War II.

According to official estimates, there are approximately 140 Pearl Harbor veterans currently residing in Florida. Rubio highlighted three of these Pearl Harbor veterans and their stories. They included:

  • Sergeant Major William Braddock of Pensacola, who was honored on Friday at a World War II/Pearl Harbor commemoration event at the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation in Pensacola.
  • Chief Machinist’s Mate Wayne Myrick of Palm Beach County, who will be featured in the Star Spangled Heroes exhibition at Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach through January 31.
  • Commander Hal Sullivan of Jacksonville, who was honored on Thursday at a Jacksonville Navy League Luncheon at the River Club Downtown.

Video of the speech is available here, and the complete transcript is below:

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Rubio Delivers Remarks Honoring Florida’s Pearl Harbor Veterans
U.S. Senate Floor
Washington, D.C.
December 8, 2014
VIDEO:  http://youtu.be/kHd_0qu5VVk

Yesterday, at events all around Florida and across the country, America marked the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor – a day known for its tragedy, but also for its role in shaping the destiny of what has come to be called The Greatest Generation.

It’s a generation that faced challenges unlike any seen before or since. It saw a decade of widespread prosperity crumble into the deepest depression in American history, and it saw the deepest depression in American history give way to the deadliest war in human history.

The scope of hardship, destruction, and wickedness they faced was exceeded only by the strength and valor with which they responded. Theirs is a generation that truly saved the world. I don’t think any other generation at any time can have that said of them with the same bluntness.

Today that generation passes its stories on to us. They are our parents and our grandparents; our ancestors and our heritage. Their stories are emblems of strength that inspire us as we meet our challenges in this new century.

Yesterday we honored the almost 2,500 Americans that were killed on that day of infamy 73 years ago – they were unsuspecting service members, innocent men and women. But today we have a chance to honor the sacrifices made in response to the attack.

It was on this very day 73 years ago that President Roosevelt famously came before Congress to ask for a declaration of war. He expressed his confidence that the American people would rally to defend their nation, saying, “The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.”

And he was right. In the days that followed, five million Americans dropped everything to volunteer for the Armed Forces. No one asked them to do it, they just did it. Tens of millions more entered the draft or assisted the war effort at home, and the American people became the arsenal of democracy almost overnight.

In the latter years of his life, I had the honor of meeting and working with a man who was at Pearl Harbor. He was in Pearl Harbor that day, and who fought on foreign battlefields in the years that followed, even losing a limb. I’m speaking, of course, of the legendary leader with whom we’re all familiar, Senator Daniel Inouye.

He was born and raised in Hawaii, and was 17 years old on December 7, 1941. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, he rushed to the scene to help treat the wounded. He enlisted in the Army the first chance he got, and went on to receive the Medal of Honor for his valor.

And when the smoke of World War II had finally cleared, his legacy of service was just beginning. He would go on to serve Hawaii in both the United States Senate and the United States House. By the time of his death, Senator Inouye was the second longest serving Senator in United States history, and I was privileged to count him as my colleague, though for too brief a time.

Like Senator Inouye, I’ve also had the privilege of representing many veterans of World War II, including some who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor – at last count, there were over 140 Pearl Harbor survivors living in Florida. I’d like to tell you the stories of three of those men.

***

One is Sergeant Major William Braddock of Pensacola. I recently had the privilege of hearing his account of what happened that Sunday morning in Hawaii.

Major Braddock had joined the Marine Corps the year prior to the attack. That morning, he was in the mess hall preparing for duty when he heard the first explosion. He ran outside and he was met with pandemonium.

Ships that had been stretched out peacefully in the sun moments before were now engulfed in flames, blanketing the harbor in black smoke. He watched a torpedo drop into the water and, seconds later, explode into the side of the USS Oklahoma.

He described the stain of oil on the water, the way flames shot up from it, and the horror of watching sailors trapped in the fire. Amidst the confusion and the shouting of orders, he recalled how little he could do to save lives, and how helpless he felt.

Following the attack, Major Braddock went on to fight bravely in some of the key battles in World War II. He fought in the battle of Iwo Jima, and remembers vividly the day the iconic flag was raised above the island. He was in the occupational forces in Japan after the devastation of the atomic bombs.

But despite all the horrors he witnessed, Major Braddock didn’t retire from the armed services the first chance he got. On the contrary, he went on to 27 years of distinguished service in the Marine Corps.

I can’t help but be humbled hearing such a story. Major Braddock is a man who fought out of duty and out of love for his country. He saw himself as a citizen soldier, even recalling the way his experience hunting rabbits in the fields around his house as a boy actually prepared him for Iwo Jima. He is humble regarding his role, and says he tries not to give too much thought to it when he doesn’t have to.

***

That same modesty is the hallmark of another story, the story of a Pearl Harbor survivor who lives in Palm Beach County today. His name is Wayne Myrick, and he was a Chief Machinist’s Mate on the USS Blue at the time of the attack.

Within seconds of the first explosion, Chief Petty Officer Myrick had rushed to gather ammunition and help operate the guns aboard that destroyer. But as a chief machinist, his attention soon turned to other matters. The captain of the USS Blue was eager to get the ship out on open water, but the boilers beneath deck were off-line.

So under intense gun fire, Chief Petty Officer Myrick and his crewmembers scrambled to get the boilers working, and eventually managed to give the ship the maneuvering speed to move out. With his help, the USS Blue was one of the first vessels to make it to open water, and was able to down five enemy aircraft and at least one submarine.

Chief Petty Officer Myrick recalled how important his oath was to him that day. He and every one of his shipmates took an oath when they enlisted that commanded them to follow their orders and defend their country from all enemies – and he viewed that oath as a solemn and sacred one, because it was a reminder that service to one’s country is about more than just self.

He had a simple but powerful message he wanted me to share today: “Be very proud to serve your country.”

***

Finally I’d like to share with you the story of Commander Hal Sullivan of Jacksonville.

Commander Sullivan joined the United States Navy when he was 23 years old. He was on the bridge of a destroyer that Sunday morning, tasked with operating the sonar equipment and helping sweep for mines.

When the first explosion rocked the harbor, he looked up to see a Japanese plane bank sharply overhead, so close to him that he could see the expression on the face of the pilot. He even recalled wryly that he could have thrown a potato right into the cockpit if he’d had one handy.

Before he could process what was happening, gunfire swept over the deck and struck the sailor next to him in the jaw. Commander Sullivan hoisted the man up and helped him to a medic. He spoke of looking up and seeing the USS Arizona rolling over with its belly up as flames shot out of its sides. He saw sailors struggling in the water.

Commander Sullivan insists that his job isn’t worthy of fame, and that his contribution that day was simply the execution of duty. But through that humility, I can’t help but see a hero – a man as selfless as he is brave, a man who put the lives of others above his own, not just that day, but for decades to come.

Commander Hal Sullivan went on to serve in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, and he didn’t retire from the Navy until almost 30 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on the exact same week that his son entered West Point.

Even now, at the age of 96, Hal says he’d still be in in the Navy if they'd let him. I’m touched by that. Because the truth is, Hal’s country still needs him. Maybe not on the deck of a ship. Maybe not risking his life in the middle of the Pacific. But we need him all the same, because it’s through hearing stories like his that our generation will find the courage to face its challenges, a courage that is uniquely American.

***

Pearl Harbor wasn’t just a day of infamy, it was also a day that revealed the greatness of our ancestors – people like Major Braddock, Chief Petty Officer Myrick, and Commander Sullivan. It’s their blood that flows in the veins of this country, that serves as our heritage and reveals our destiny.

I believe it’s true, as Shakespeare famously wrote, that “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” But for the Greatest Generation, it was all three.

Pearl Harbor was the day their greatness was thrust upon them, but it was over the years that followed that their greatness was achieved the only way greatness can be achieved – through blood, toil, tears and sweat.

And their toil did not stop after the war was won. The world still looked to America – to our industrial power, our political leadership, and our military might – to restore global balance and maintain order while the wounds of mankind healed.

As Pope Pius the 12th said following the war, “America has a genius for great and unselfish deeds. Into the hands of America God has placed the destiny of an afflicted mankind.”

I believe America still has that genius. I believe mankind remains afflicted, and that its destiny remains in our hands. All around the world, those who yearn for freedom still turn their eyes toward our shores. They wonder if we see their suffering. They wonder if we hear their cries.

I am confident that our own generation will achieve greatness in this century. We will do so by remaining the world’s beacon for freedom. That means preserving and extending the promise of the American Dream here at home, and it means standing against evil and oppression when it rears its head around the world.

Like the Greatest Generation, our men and women in uniform today fight for a cause greater than themselves. Major Braddock said if he could tell today’s troops one thing, it would be: Don't give up, do what's right, and above all else, be proud of the work you’re tasked with carrying out.

I second that sentiment. Because our children and grandchildren will stand on the shoulders of our generation – they will live in the world we leave behind, the same way we live in the world that was left for us.

So as we marked the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I was grateful for all the tributes that took place throughout Florida over the weekend. And it is my prayer that America will take a moment to reflect on the meaning of that day.

Its meaning is not a relic of the past – it doesn’t belong just to the Greatest Generation – it belongs to all of us. It was America’s solemn call to action, not for a generation, but for all time – a powerful reminder of our duty to our nation, to each other, to our children, and to an afflicted mankind.