First of all, please allow me to apologize for just now getting this post out. I meant to have this all ready and scheduled to post early this morning, but at the last minute I changed my mind. You see, yesterday at church, one of our military veterans gave a speech during our Memorial Day service. I wish I could have videoed him giving this speech because it was quite moving, especially coming from a veteran. If only you could have heard him as he struggled to speak through tears…
But I still wanted to share it with y’all so I asked him for a copy of his speech, and he graciously handed it over. It’s taken me a while to find time today to type it all up, that’s why I’m just now posting. I know it’s kinda long… but please take the time to read it.
While every Memorial Day is marked with solemn remembrance, in 2016 we take special note. This year — as we mark the 151st anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II, the 66th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, the 41st anniversary of our departure from Vietnam, and the 26th anniversary of Operation Desert Shield in the lead-up to the Gulf War — we honor and remember those who perished in those wars, just as we recall the more than 6,800 American service members who have given their lives since September 11,2001
To the families of our fallen patriots: we lack the words to describe what you feel on Memorial Day, because try as we may — as we must — we can never fully know it. But we do know what your sacrifice means to us, to our country, and to a world that still depends so much on America for it’s security.
As our nation remembers the service and sacrifice of previous generations, we as a people recognize that the men and women serving in uniform today — active-duty, Guard, and Reserve — are as humble, patriotic, and selfless as any generation that has come before. They, alongside their families, continue that tradition of service to country that makes our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known. Nearly 200,000 of these soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are currently serving beyond our shores, protecting us far from home, and will not be able to spend this holiday with their loved ones. Today, and every day, we honor them and their families with our heartfelt thanks and support.
Tomorrow is a special day. It is a day of honor and reverence; it is a solemn day. We must recognize an unfortunate fact of life: our beloved country was formed and is protected by the blood of warriors. As unfortunate as this is, we can be thankful, because over the years America has answered the call every time our way of life has been threatened.
No one has more succinctly and accurately described what someone puts on the line when they sign a contract to serve in the armed forces than legendary General Jim Mattis of the United States Marine Corp. In a recent address to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Mattis articulated, “You signed blank checks payable with your lives to the American people.” With a simple analogy he captures the moment of signing, when a civilian Department of Defense employee hands a young man or woman a black pen, in a cubicle somewhere inside a military entrance processing station. You take the pen, and you think nothing of it, because your mind is already made up. Unbeknownst to many, their fate is sealed with the final stroke of that black pen.
There are many veterans in the audience, including myself, but tomorrow is not our day. Tomorrow is the day that has been made for the ones who left home, but did not return. We gather in order to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us, and to pay them homage. Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, after being proclaimed by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Logan’s stated purpose for observing the holiday was to, “gather around the sacred remains” of our “comrades who died in defense of our country”, “garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime, and raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor.” Logan suggested a respectful and gracious disposition for the day, affirming we ought to, “cherish tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes.”
How do we measure the sacrifices spoken of by General Logan? We could start by counting the number of deaths in service to this country — somewhere around 1.1 million. We could count the number of fathers, brothers, husbands, mothers, sisters, or wives that never came home from a war zone. If we envision a military funeral, we can count the number of times an American flag is folded before it is handed to a new widow. We could count the number of shots fired after she receives the flag, or the number of notes in taps. Maybe we can count the number of nights she goes without sleep, the number of times she asks, “Why?”, or the number of tears she cries. We could count the number of little league games a boy’s father will not be there for, or the number of walks a mother will not be able to go on with her daughter. If we were able to add all of these things up, perhaps it would give us some idea of the sacrifices that have been made for our freedoms. However, in reality such things are not quantifiable. We cannot count the grief in a mother’s heart when she finds out her son or daughter is not returning home from a foreign battlefield. We cannot count the thoughts that go through a soldier’s head as he gasps for his last few breaths of air while his buddies try in vain to save his life. Truly, the sacrifices made my this nation’s heroes and their families are immeasurable.
These are the grim realities of freedom. Freedom ranks among the greatest of gifts known to man, but like anything of value, it has it’s price. Those who have lost a loved one in service to our country are all to familiar with the price that must be paid. They know what it is like to have their worst nightmare come true when they see a government vehicle park in front of their house. When the doorbell rings they already know what the two uniformed officers waiting outside are going to say. Those who have not experienced such things will never understand freedom in the way those who have do, because no one can feel the pain they have lived through. Most Americans, then, having never laid such a sacrifice upon freedom’s alter, hold a very narrow view of what freedom really is. Though our understanding of the freedom with which we are provided may be limited, let our gratitude to those who have given their lives to provide it, and our compassion for their loved ones, be unending.
This begs the question, how do we show our gratitude to our men and women in uniform who have given their lives for us? As they are no longer physically with us, surely we cannot verbally thank them, except, perhaps, through prayer. It is impossible to know the intentions behind each person’s service, and some who gave their lives for this country did not even volunteer to do so; they were drafted. In what way, then, can we thank them? There is a way to give gratitude to each man and woman who has died for this country, regardless of the reason for their service, or whether they were drafted or volunteered themselves. Making this country something worth dying for is the ultimate service we can do for them. We each can do this in our own unique way according to our abilities, and when we do it redeems their sacrifice. As long as we bear this in mind and act upon it we are honoring our fallen heroes, but if we as a society do not show gratitude for their sacrifices, their memory fades. They gave the last full measure for us; their blank checks were cashed. Let us not commit the injustice of taking their sacrifices for granted. None of our fallen war-fighters wanted to die for us. But if these things must happen, let them happen in the name of something befitting of such a noble and heroic act.
I consider it appropriate on this day of remembrance to address a social trend which has been around for decades, yet has occurred with greater frequency as a symptom of the recent social unrest in our country. A while back I received a picture of a woman standing on an American flag which had been placed on the ground approximately ten feet away from a group of soldiers. In the picture the woman was smiling, and had her right hand held up next to her shoulder in a fist. This act of protest and others like it are protected speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In mentioning this, let me be clear that it is not my intent to stir emotions or comment on the law’s correctness or lack thereof. Whether or not desecration of the flag should be protected by law is an ongoing debate in our society. Be that as it may, I would be remiss during this remembrance if I did not point out the fact that the woman in the picture and others like her can stand on the American flag, they can walk on it, they can spit on it, they can throw it on the ground, kick it around, and burn it, but nothing they do will ever detract from the honor and courage with which our heroic dead have served, nor could it ever diminish the dearness of their sacrifices; this is not debatable. Their honor can never be taken from them because, although they had to leave behind wives, husbands, children, and a lifetime of memories they never got to make, the honor they earned by the sacrifice of their blood abides with them eternally. They remain with us in our hearts to the extent we dignify their offering.
Truly, no American has loved us more than the service member who has offered their last breath to secure that which we cherish. Everywhere we go we should take them with us in our hearts. When you take your children to the park, when you have a birthday party for them, when they are waking up in the morning, please remember there are heroes watching with you. When you go to a football game on Friday night, when you sit around a campfire with friends, or when you go for a walk with someone you love, give thanks to the warriors standing guard. You will not see them, as their hour has already passed. Yet, they abide in the recesses of our memories. Underneath everything we hold dear is the blood of those to whom we owe our deepest respect and fidelity. If you stop and listen closely, not with your ears, but with your heart, you can hear the whisper of the army of the dead. As they leave behind a life on earth worthy of honor, remembrance, and gratitude, they unceasingly utter “I love you to death.”
Happy Memorial Day.
~ R. Nelson, US Army Combat Veteran
I also wanted to share the song that was sung shortly before our Memorial Day service commenced. This is not at my church — I do not know this girl… but I do like the way she sings this song. Enjoy. 🙂