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"Walk of Thankful Recognition" Event for Memorial Day

Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for IP and USPTO Deputy Director Michelle K. Lee

Memorial Day Ceremony

Alexandria National Cemetery

May 21, 2014

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Joe, for the kind introduction. I appreciate the great work you and the USPTO Military Association (UMA) did to put this event together—including another wonderful rendition of the national anthem by Aretha Grayson, who sang it at Community Day two weeks ago. I have to admit I had no idea this cemetery was here. I understand this is the second year we’ve gathered here for this event; there couldn’t be a more appropriate location.

It’s easy to forget how much history surrounds us here in Alexandria, a city older than our nation itself and one that has experienced firsthand the effects of war, during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. One hundred and fifty years ago, the area where our campus sits today was a vital railroad hub bustling with activity. On the hill where the George Washington Masonic Memorial now stands, a military fort armed with Union soldiers and cannons guarded the approaches to the city. This cemetery was new, an improvised burial ground for soldiers who had died from battle or disease. And perhaps most sobering of all, just across Duke Street from here was a vivid reminder of what had precipitated the war—a building known as the Alexandria Slave Pen. It was there that Solomon Northrup and many others like him began their long journey into slavery, as you might have seen depicted in the recent film “12 Years a Slave.” Today it is known as the Freedom House—a fitting name that reminds us what a difference the war made, not just for those who were freed from bondage, but the countless millions yet unborn who would, in the immortal words of President Lincoln, remain “henceforth and forever free.” Many of the soldiers buried here died in that conflict, but in the years since the Civil War others have been buried here as well, veterans of more recent conflicts, including two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam.

After this ceremony, I plan to spend a few minutes exploring the cemetery, to honor the memory of those fallen and to recognize their sacrifices. I hope you’ll do the same. When you head back to our campus, if you take a slight detour and follow Holland Lane to Eisenhower Avenue, you’ll see a statue of General Dwight Eisenhower that reminds us of another conflict that shaped the world we live in, in profound and lasting ways. May 8, in fact, was Victory in Europe Day—the 69th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allied forces under General Eisenhower. Together with Loyalty Day May 1, Military Spouse Appreciation Day May 9, Armed Forces Day May 17, and of course Memorial Day May 26, it’s one of five holidays that constitute National Military Appreciation Month. 

Designated by Congress in 1999, National Military Appreciation Month is a time to honor, remember, recognize and appreciate all military personnel; those men and women who have served throughout our history, all who now serve in uniform and their families, as well as those who gave their lives in defense of the freedoms we enjoy today. It’s a time to recognize those on active duty in all branches of the services, the National Guard and Reserves, as well as retirees, veterans, and all of their families—well over 90 million Americans and more than 230 years of our nation’s history. 

That staggering figure includes more than 2,100 employees of our agency who have served in uniform and about 180 of whom are still serving in the Reserve or Guard. They include our general counsel, Will Covey, who is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. One weekend a month and a few weeks a year Covey works in the Army’s Office of the General Counsel at the Pentagon. He’s been in uniform for 25 years, including tours to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2011. If you haven’t already seen Covey’s profile in this week’s issue of the USPTO Weekly, please read it. He’s had an impressive career, and as far as I know he’s our agency’s highest-ranking military employee. I also want to mention Katarzyna Wyrozebski, a supervisory patent examiner from Art Unit 1746. Kat was born in Poland, but her family fled to the United States in 1986 to escape communism. Today Kat is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and is being considered for the Navy’s prestigious “Junior Officer of the Year” award for a combination of military and civilian achievements and her community service. In her free time—which I can’t imagine is much!—Kat is a volunteer Guardian with Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that brings senior veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their war memorials. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a member of our communications team and one of the key organizers of this event actually retired from the National Guard just this past Sunday. It seems incredible to me that Eric Atkisson has been in uniform for just over 25 years, including combat deployments to Saudi Arabia in 1991, Kuwait in 2003, and Iraq in 2011, and is retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Will, Kat, and Eric are just three of many USPTO employees who served in the Armed Forces this year, and I want to thank all of those employees—as well as those who have served in the past—for your selfless service and dedication to duty. 

If you are one of those veterans, could I ask you to please raise your hand and keep it raised for a few moments? If you are the spouse or close family member of someone who has served in our Armed Forces, could you also raise your hands?  On behalf of everyone else in the agency, please allow me to express my appreciation for all that you do to help keep our country safe. Our nation’s first patent examiner and third president, Thomas Jefferson, once said that “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We owe a debt of gratitude to men and women like you who have paid that price with your vigilance by serving in our Armed Forces.

As I said at Community Day two weeks ago, the USPTO is a very special place because it’s drawn from a rich tapestry of cultures, heritages, languages, religions, and experiences, from all parts of the United States and beyond. The experiences that past and present members of our Armed Forces bring to their work are very much a part of that rich tapestry and one of many reasons why we are the Best Place to Work in the Federal Government. Thank you all for everything you have done, are doing, and will continue to do on behalf of our great nation.

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Last Modified: 5/27/2014 4:10:06 PM