(Reprinted and edited from Memorial Day 2012)
Today is not barbecue day. It is not “just” a part of “just another” long weekend. Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games. Today is not another excuse to go camping. Today we have gathered here to remember. We have not come to thank our veterans; we do that in November, but to remember those who have fallen, those who have given their lives, so that we might have freedom and liberty. We gather to remember men and women for whom words like duty, honor, and country have meaning and because of whom, these words are themselves more meaningful.
During the War in Vietnam, Marine Private First Class Gary Martini, braving intense enemy fire, raced through an open field to drag a fallen comrade back to a friendly position. Seeing a second fallen Marine just 20 meters from the enemy position, Martini once again risked his life to bring the man back to safety. Upon reaching the fallen Marine, Martini was mortally wounded but continued to drag his comrade back to his platoon’s position, telling his men to remain under cover. As he finally struggled to pull the man to safety, Private First Class Martini fell and succumbed to his wounds.
Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, while under enemy fire in Iraq, organized the evacuation of three soldiers who had been wounded in an attack on their vehicle. Sergeant Smith manned the machine gun mounted on their vehicle, maintaining an exposed position as he engaged the enemy forces, allowing the safe withdrawal of wounded soldiers. He was mortally wounded in the attack but not before killing as many as 50 enemy fighters in order to save his injured comrades.
During the Second World War, First Lieutenant Jack Mathis, flying a bomb run over Vegesack, Germany, was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire. His right arm was shattered above the elbow, and he suffered a large wound on his side and abdomen. Knowing that the success of the mission depended upon him, Lieutenant Mathis, mortally wounded, dragged himself to his sights and released his bombs on target before he died.
These few examples give us only a flavor of the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made for our freedom and for the freedom of others, often total strangers, in other nations. So highly do we value this gift we call liberty, that we are willing to expend the blood of our own sons and daughters so that others might enjoy this gift also.
Brave men and women wearing the uniform of the United States have fought and bled and died in places like Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Concord, Lexington, Saratoga, Bazentin Ridge, Belleau Wood, Manila Bay, Guantanamo, Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Beruit, Okinawa, Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, Pusan, Inchon, Bastogne, the Ardennes Forest, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Saipan, Medina Ridge, Al Busayyah, Wadi Al-Batin, Baghdad, Kandahar, Khaz Oruzgan, Musa Qala and thousands of other places most of us have never heard of as well as places so remote that the places don’t even have names.
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania four and one half months after the Union victory over the Confederate Army in the Battle of Gettysburg. On this day or remembrance, it is good to remember the words that President Lincoln spoke.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This day is very much like the hallowed ground of Gettysburg. There is little that our feeble efforts or words can do to consecrate this day beyond what the blood of patriots has already done. As we gather here today our task is to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln. It is for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work for which these brave men and women have given their lives. We must be resolved that these patriots did not die in vain. It is too painful for us to remember their sacrifice each day, but on this precious and hallowed day we should take the time to remember. We should honor their sacrifice by appreciating the things that they have purchased with their blood.
Be sure to avail yourselves of the freedoms that their sacrifices have purchased on our behalf. Vote. Don’t just vote for the politician that promises to give us the most stuff, vote for the men and women who hold dear the ideals of freedom and liberty. Honor the flag that they fought for, it is more than just a piece of cloth because it stands for the things those patriots fought and bled and died for. Stand when the flag passes by, sing the national anthem, and teach your children to stand, teach them to take their hats off and to hold their hands over their hearts. It seems that lately I have been at sporting events where I see far too many people who are oblivious to the ceremony of the national anthem, while others are standing, they sit, while others are standing at attention with their hats held over their hearts, these others are busy talking on their cell phones. We honor the blood of heroes by being courteous and respectful.
Now, I fully realize that all of us who put on the uniform of the United States did so to defend your rights not to stand, not to sing and not to hold your hand over your heart. That’s fine. If you are one of those who takes issue with it, what I ask of you is that you do so respectfully and that while the rest of us are standing and singing, you share a moment of silence and remember those brave men and women who gave you that right.
Finally, I ask that you honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform with your prayers. You don’t have to pray to the God I worship, feel free to pray to whatever deity you choose, but pray for all of the men and women who, even now, are away from their families, friends and homes. Pray for those who today, instead of attending backyard barbecues and swim parties with their friends, are far out at sea, standing guard or even laying in a bunk half-way around the world or eating cold Meals Ready to Eat out of a foil envelope while they huddle in a foxhole in the sand waiting for the next mortar round to drop on their heads. Pray for the families of those who are away from home. Today wives and husbands of these brave soldiers are doing what they can to hold their families together and their children are growing up wondering when, or if, their father or mothers are ever coming home again.
Today is not barbecue day. It is not just a part of just another long weekend. Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games. Today is not another excuse to go camping. Today we have gathered here to remember. Today let us remember the sacrifices that made us what we are and have given us freedom and liberty. Today has been set aside as a special day of remembrance.
Let us all pause to remember…
…and may we never forget.