Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. speaks during a Veterans Day ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Nov. 11. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan)

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander U.S. Pacific Fleet, commemorated Veterans Day here during a sunset ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial, thanking all Americans who served the nation in uniform.

"Our battles, our victories, indeed our very way of life, are owed not to great moments or important dates," Harris said (see prepared remarks). "They are owed to the actions and sacrifices of individual men and women who were willing to step into the breach for their country and for the cause of freedom.

"America is the country she is because of her heroes, past and present."

The event paid special tribute to the Nisei -- "second-generation," U.S.-born Japanese Americans -- who served during World War II in the Army's 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. With Nisei veterans in attendance onboard the ship where World War II officially ended, the ceremony also signaled the opening of a Battleship Missouri Memorial special exhibit honoring Nisei service and exploits.

"I truly stand on the shoulders of giants," said Harris, the Navy's first Japanese-American four-star admiral. "Despite injustice, these Japanese-Americans stood together for a truly American ideal. The many cultures resident in the immigrant experience share a common underpinning of honor, pride and perseverance that has added immeasurably to our strength as a nation. This is a powerful message and it speaks to us all, no matter our gender, religion or ethnicity.

"This is a powerful message that speaks to our adversaries as well: we are in fact stronger, together."

Harris also reflected on his parents' experiences in World War II.

"While my father was from Tennessee and wore the Navy uniform in World War II, my mother had a very different story," Harris said. "She's Nihonjin, from Kobe, Japan. She lost her home, her school, many of her friends in air raids during the same war that her future husband was fighting. It was from her that I learned the concept of giri - duty -- which is an important part of my heritage and of who I am.

"Today, our giri -- our duty, our obligation -- is to remember the legacy of our veterans," Harris continued. "Be they the Founding Fathers who revolted against the oppression of the Crown, the Nisei and other veterans who fought in World War II, those who fought in the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, the wounded warriors who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who gave the last full measure."

Harris spoke of service members standing the watch today and the importance of how being prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving the peace.

"The world is a dangerous place and it demands that we be ready 24-7, to meet any danger that threatens American citizens and our national interests," Harris said. "This is why the Pacific Fleet today remains eternally vigilant, always ready to fight tonight. This is why as the commander, I am committed to deepening the maritime piece of our defense relationships with our allies and security partners as we lead America's rebalance to the Pacific."