Good morning. Thank you, Jan and J.C., for setting the stage with your wonderful words – and, more importantly, for your dedication to this remarkable place of honor and healing. And thank you, Peggy, for inviting me to share in this most deserved celebration of Charlie Sabatier’s service.
Charlie always said that his life was blessed with three miracles – getting out of Vietnam alive, marrying you, Peggy, and having three beautiful children. Well, today might represent a fourth because it’s no easy feat to get a loved one’s name etched into this wall. And I know that Peggy fought very hard to make it possible.
On behalf of President Obama, I am deeply humbled to join you this morning as we celebrate the heroic sacrifice of all American service-people and veterans – and that of Charles J. Sabatier in particular.
During the first Tet Offensive – February 3, some 43 years ago – Charlie Sabatier was pinned down in heavy crossfire, when he heard the call of another soldier in need. He ran across the battlefield to help. He felt a bullet enter his back. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
While any ordinary person might have thought “I’ve given enough” – while it would have been completely understandable for Charlie to retreat into the peace of private life – Charlie was no ordinary guy. He had other plans. For him, the fight was just getting started.
After months of painful rehabilitation, Charlie dedicated his life and career to making it easier for people in wheelchairs to access society’s basic services – public buildings and public transportation systems. Because of his advocacy, communities across America cut ramps from sidewalks. They installed doors that open with the press of a button. They made certain that people using wheelchairs could board buses, trains, and planes.
And, in the process, Charlie didn’t secure anyone’s special rights. He assured everyone’s equal rights to dignity, to independence, to security, to opportunity.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is hallowed ground. There is nowhere in this country more sacred – not because of what we say, but because of what these soldiers did, to paraphrase President Lincoln.
Looking into this haunting, inspiring wall, we express profound gratitude for the names we can touch – and the faces we can still see. If not with Peggy and the kids, this is the place Charlie belongs. It’s a tribute not only to his sacrifice on the battlefields of Vietnam, but also on the battlefields of civil rights in the United States. And on behalf of the president, it is my great privilege to welcome him home.