(Note: Remarks prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us today. This is a special ceremony, made even more meaningful because so many friends and family members are here. We especially want to thank all those who traveled from the far corners of the country and the world to be with us.
And there are several special guests we would like to acknowledge:
- Gregory Starr, the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service of the State Department,
- Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management, also from the State Department, and
- Colonel Terrence B. Sheridan, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police.
Thank you for your partnership, and for joining us as we honor not just FBI employees, but your employees as well.
It is no secret that the FBI is home to an outstanding group of individuals, whose commitment, hard work, and excellence are unparalleled. Some of their actions and accomplishments are heralded by the media, and made known to the American public. But most are not.
Indeed, the men and women we honor today could be called unsung heroes. They walk the halls with us. They work diligently beside us. And yet many of us do not know the lengths to which they have gone to live out their oath to serve and protect.
Heroism is something we hear a lot about these days. It seems everyone from movie stars to ball players has been described as a hero. But the agents and officers we honor today are heroes in the truest sense of the word.
Each displayed tremendous courage in the face of tremendous danger. Each took actions that ran directly counter to our human instinct of self-preservation. Each put the safety of others before their own.
When these men and women first received their badges, they had no way of knowing the cases they would confront or the places they would travel. They were called forth by high ideals—fidelity, bravery, integrity, and patriotism—but could not envision the sacrifices these ideals would demand of them.
And yet they said yes. Yes to every assignment, no matter the danger. Yes to every challenge, no matter the cost. And that is heroism.
They are not the kind to call attention to their acts of heroism. But their acts deserve our attention, and our gratitude. And so today we are proud to formally recognize them with the FBI’s highest honors.
Before we hear their stories, I want to share a story from the Civil War, which some of you may know.
On July 2, 1863, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, leader of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, found himself defending Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg. Confederate forces were storming the hill, striking over and over. Ammunition was low, and many men had died or were severely wounded.
But Chamberlain knew that Little Round Top had tremendous tactical importance. If the Union soldiers could not hold it, the battle would likely be lost.
And so Chamberlain took a chance. He commanded his soldiers to charge downhill with their bayonets in a dramatic, daring maneuver. Confusion reigned as they caught the enemy by surprise.
And Chamberlain’s men succeeded in holding Little Round Top. This proved to be the turning point of the Battle of Gettysburg, and of the Civil War.
Chamberlain’s charge down Little Round Top is now a timeless lesson for students of military history. But though it resides proudly in the annals of American history, it has many parallels to the acts of bravery we are here to honor.
Not all of them took place on the front lines of a war—though many did. Many of these individuals faced gunfire and bombings on a daily basis. Others confronted violent, armed felons, as close as Maryland, and as far away as Indonesia.
The details of each person’s story are different, but they all possess common elements—or rather, uncommon elements:
Willingness to serve, and if necessary, to sacrifice.
Commitment to duty, carried out by bravery.
And valor that gave them the strength to fight past bombs and bullets and the longest of odds to save lives.
More than 140 years have passed since Chamberlain’s men lifted their bayonets and changed the course of the Civil War—and of history. But we have seen such bravery and valor in our own time.
We see it in the men and women sitting here today.
They, too, changed the course of history.
They changed the course of history for a young woman given up for dead after a car crash.
They changed the course of history for those who might have been harmed by violent fugitives or determined terrorists.
They changed the course of history for the soldiers they saved, and for those soldiers’ families.
The Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott once said, “Real valor consists not in being insensible to danger; but in being prompt to confront and disarm it.”
The individuals we honor today did just that. They recognized danger, but did not run from it. They were prompt to confront and disarm it. They have earned our admiration and our gratitude.
They have earned the title of hero.
I want to personally thank each of you for what you have done for the FBI and for our country. I also want to thank your families for the sacrifices they make, and for sharing you with us every day. God bless you all, and may God protect you as you protect our nations.
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