June 18, 2016
BATH, ME – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered remarks today at the christening of USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) at Bath Iron Works. The USS Michael Monsoor is named in honor of Petty Officer Second Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on March 31, 2008, for his selfless and valiant actions in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. On September 29, 2006, during combat in Ar Ramadi, Monsoor dove onto an insurgent’s grenade, shielding three fellow SEALs and eight Iraqi Army soldiers from the blast. Monsoor died shortly after from the wounds he sustained. In his remarks, Senator King spoke of Monsoor’s heroism and the lessons it imparts upon us for our lives today.
“Michael Monsoor made the ultimate sacrifice, and he did it for love. But he was not a hero. He is a hero. Because the inspiration he provided to all of us – the guidance he provided to us – as to how we should live our lives is still alive. And it’s going to live as long as this ship sails the seas of the world,” Senator King said. “So I want to thank him for what he taught us, for what he showed us. I want to thank the people who are here who built this ship and the people who will sail it. Thanks to Michael Monsoor, a hero – and Godspeed to this mighty ship that bears your name.”
The Monsoor, a 610-foot long and approximately 15,000 ton ship, is the second Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer constructed for the U.S. Navy.
Senator King's complete remarks, as delivered, are below:
“Michael Monsoor was a hero – a hero with a capital ‘h’ – unflinching but knowing. One part of the story that hasn’t been told was that the grenade that was thrown onto the roof that day hit him in the chest and bounced to the ground. Before he dove on it he shouted, ‘Grenade!’
“What that tells us is something special about this moment in time that was knowing and deliberate. He was completely conscious of the sacrifice he was about to make. Reading and rereading his story this week and thinking about it this morning has made me think about heroes and what they mean.
“It seems to me there are two elements that are demonstrated by Michael Monsoor’s action: one is sacrifice and the second is love. Love isn’t something you often hear spoken by politicians involving warships – but it is love. Senator Collins just quoted John 15: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ And that’s exactly what happened in this case.
“But there is a third aspect to heroism that really is of most significance today and that is inspiration and teaching. It teaches us how to act, how to think, how to be. Indeed, it teaches us how to love. Few of us will be in a situation, on a roof, in wartime, or on a hill at Gettysburg, or the lonely man who led our country through the crushing burden of the Civil War. But does that mean that none of us can be heroes? That we’re merely bystanders while certain great people act on our behalf? I don’t think so.
“I think we have opportunities to be heroes, perhaps with a small ‘h’, day-by-day, year-by-year, in our lives, in our relationships with our fellow citizens. A hero of mine, for example, is a guy named Leon Gorman, who used to be the President of L.L.Bean. He’s a hero not because of the success he had in business, but because every Wednesday he went to Preble Street in Portland and cooked breakfast and served it for homeless people. He made a sacrifice of his time and effort out of love.
“And I had an experience as a young person that changed my life. It touches on what we are celebrating here today. I went to a high school in Virginia (I apologize, I wanted to be born in Maine but my mother was in Virginia and it was an important day for her so I thought I should be there). But I went to a high school interestingly called Francis C. Hammond, and Francis C. Hammond High School was named for a young man from Alexandria who was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner from the Korean War. He was a naval foreman. In an early September day in 1959, my high school became the first high school in the state of Virginia to be integrated. It was a school of 1,400 all white students and two young people came, African Americans, Jimmy and Patsy Ragland – for some reason 56 years later I still remember their names.
“There were police cars that surrounded the school. The tension was high. Two U.S. Marshals walked into the anteroom of the high school with these two young people, and by the way, they were heroes too – sacrifice and love. But at that point, no one had figured out what the next piece of choreography was – how these young people were to find their way in this new school. All the emphasis was on getting them in through the door. And many of us were gathered in the atrium of the school not knowing what to do. It was a moment of tension that could have gone either way.
“At that moment, a voice from the back of the crowd started to say, ‘Excuse me. Let me through please. Excuse me.’ And we looked around and it was a guy named Mike Vopatek, who was the captain of the basketball team, the quarterback of the football team, the president of the senior class. He walked through the crowd, through that silent moment, and went up to Jimmy Ragland and shook his hand and said, ‘My name is Mike Vopatek. Can I help you find your class?’
“That was heroism. That was a life-changing event for those of us who watched it. Mike Vopatek was eighteen years old. He didn’t have to think about that but he knew that he was making, potentially, a sacrifice. This was 1959 in Virginia.
“But what he did inspired us. It inspired me. It lives with me that I can tell this story 56 years later – and that’s the special part of heroism.
“Michael Monsoor made the ultimate sacrifice, and he did it for love. But he was not a hero. He is a hero. Because the inspiration, the teaching, the education he provided to all of us, the guidance he provided to us as to how we should live our lives is still alive. And it’s going to live as long as this ship sails the seas of the world.
“So I want to thank him for what he taught us, for what he showed us. I want to thank the people who are here who built this ship and the people who will sail it. Thanks to Michael Monsoor, a hero – and Godspeed to this mighty ship that bears your name.”