Department of Justice Seal
Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
DEA Memorial Day Observance
Thursday -- May 13, 2004

We gather this morning in a nation suffused with the sacrifice of its young men and women. Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration remembers those who have died to fight the spread of illegal drugs. In two weeks, on Memorial Day, the nation will pause to remember those who have died fighting the spread of tyranny.

The memorials will differ, but one theme will run through all these remembrances: freedom. Whether it is a soldier on the streets of Baghdad or an agent, specialist or officer on the streets of an American city, we must never forget that the cause they died defending is the cause of freedom. For nothing does more to diminish our potential - both as individuals and as a nation - than illegal drug use. Nothing we can do to ourselves does more to rob us of our freedom - our freedom to live full, productive lives; our freedom to maximize the potential that God has placed in each and every one of us.

Today another name is added to the Memorial Wall. Another soul - Elton Armstead. He enters the company of men and women whom -- I suspect, were they asked -- would regard themselves not as heroes of freedom but as believers in freedom.

They were men and women who rejected the fatalism that drives the call for surrender to the slavery of drug abuse; men and women who rejected the notion that a nation founded on the idea of freedom cannot and should not do all that it can to live up to that idea; men and women who embraced the hope and promise that is the heart and soul of America.

They understood that the challenge before us is great, but it is not insurmountable. The work they undertook - the work you undertake - is not in vain. In the three years that the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration retargeted investigations and prosecutions from small-time dealers to the largest, organized drug cartels, restricting the supply of drugs, we have:

The efforts, dedication and sacrifice of the men and women of the DEA are changing the lives of our citizens, while expanding the freedom of our nation.

Today, we memorialize and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of justice. But the real dedication and recollection of a life should not only be found in etchings on brick and mortar. We should memorialize the sacrifices of men like Elton Armstead by renewing our own dedication to the cause; by carrying forward the noble ideals of the life we now recall.

Our challenges harken back to another time in American history when a great president refused to surrender and instead rallied the nation to the daunting task that lay before it.

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," Abraham Lincoln told the nation in the midst of the Civil War. "We will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We - even we here - hold the power and bear the responsibility."

Days like these ensure that the men and women who have sacrificed to defeat the evil of drug abuse will not escape history. They have held the power and borne the responsibility for the security of our nation and the safety of its citizens. And the fiery trial through which they passed - the ultimate sacrifice they made - has lighted each of them down in honor for generations of Americans to see. May we never fail to commemorate their brilliance.

Thank you very much.