"Why do this?" he asked.
Because we should, he said.
"Somehow, when we have most needed them, ordinary Americans rise up and do extraordinary things and make extraordinary sacrifices," Wagner said.
"They did it for our forefathers, they did it for us, and, if we remember on days like this, if we always tell the stories and keep them fresh, and if we are always worthy of the heroes in those stories, then, God willing, this nation will continue to produce such men and women to defend our children and their children, so that our nation, unique among nations, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, will not perish from this earth."
Wagner's grandfather was among those who marched off to protect his country and never came home.
He recounted his family history, as he had done not too long ago in the state Legislature during a ceremony in remembrance of the Holocaust.
"Dozens of survivors, and a few former servicemen who had been concentration camp liberators, joined us," Wagner said.
"I rose to speak. What, I asked, could an assemblyman who had never served in the military, an assemblyman, of all things with a last name of Wagner (pronouncing it "Vagner," as in the German composer), offer to the men and women and families who had lived through such horror, and to the men who had risked so much to save them?"
The answer was simple. Although his last name was an honored one in Nazi Germany, his grandmother on his mother's side was Jewish, which according to Judaic law and the Nazis, made her daughter, Wagner's mother, and him Jewish.
Had they lived in Germany they could have been among those sent to camps.