Home News Speeches The True Meaning of Duty
  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • FBI Special Agent Memorial Service
  • Washington, D.C.
  • May 17, 2006

Thank you John (Pistole). Thank you Deputy Attorney General McNulty. And thank you Ken (Porter) for your thoughts on what it means to be a hero. Hearing about your father, Robert Porter, gives us valuable perspective on what it means to lose a family member in the line of duty. We are tremendously honored that you chose to follow in your father’s footsteps.

We also have a number of other family members with us who share the loss of a loved one in service to the FBI and to our nation. I want to thank all of you for being here with us. More than any words we can offer, it is the families who truly memorialize these individuals, through their love and through their memories, passed on to future generations.

As you heard earlier, former special agents Mireles and Orrantia, who read the roll call, survived one of the worst shootouts in FBI history. On that day 20 years ago, eight FBI agents answered the call to duty and found themselves in a confrontation with two violent suspects. Tragically, two of the agents lost their lives.

This memorial service at headquarters was a tradition established under Director Webster in response to those tragic events. And today, we renew that tradition as we remember the sacrifices of these men and women.

New York Times columnist William Safire once wrote, “When duty calls, that is when character counts.”

And it is duty and character that I want to talk about today. The men and women we honor came from many different places, had different backgrounds, lived in different times, and died under different circumstances. But the commitment they shared, and for which they gave their lives, was their commitment to duty that counts most of all.

The dictionary defines duty as conduct, service, or obligations that arise from one’s position. Put simply, duty is really just doing what should be done. And it is this concept of duty which goes straight to the heart of what it means to be an FBI special agent and to serve your country and to serve your fellow citizens.

Duty is not always exciting. Anyone who has spent time doing surveillance around-the-clock for weeks on end or has combed through financial records going back years knows exactly what I mean. This is not how the job is depicted in the movies, is it?

Much of our work is tedious and painstaking. Much of our work is unrealized and unrecognized. And the truth of it is, that to most Americans, much of our work remains unknown.

Yet, these individuals, whose names we have just heard, answered the call to duty. Each of them woke up one day, went to work, and—whether they thought about it or not—their actions said, “I will do what needs to be done today, no matter what it takes.” And on that day, fate demanded their ultimate sacrifice.

We often talk about ideals such as duty, honor, and sacrifice for one’s country. We believe these ideals are noble. But, as Americans, they do not require nobility, or even special circumstances, to be lived. And they are ideals which, I hope, not only agents—but all of us in this room and in the FBI—share.

Because it is this strong sense of purpose, carried out in service to our ideals, regardless of reward, that is the true meaning of duty. And that meaning can and should inspire all of us as we carry out our duty each day—regardless of whether or not our own duty requires us to place our lives on the line. By developing that commitment within our own character, we can truly honor these individuals and their sacrifice to the FBI and our nation.

I want to close by reading an old British song of patriotism that describes this great love of country and our desire to serve:

“The love that asks no questions,

the love that stands the test,

that lays upon the altar, the dearest and the best;

the love that never falters, the love that pays the price,

the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.”

Let us learn and be inspired by the undaunted lives of these individuals—these heroes. Let us go forth each day and answer the call to duty, fulfilling our own destinies, so that their sacrifice was not in vain.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

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