Memorial Day Address 2011

Memorial Day Address 2011; first delivered in 2008 to Ely Veterans and American Legion at Vermilion Community College

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
They mark our place; and in the sky
The larks; still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders field.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
Tis you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies blow in Flanders field.

Those words were written by Canadian poet John McCrea in 1915 about the British and French soldiers who lost their lives in World War One. It was written as an appeal to America to come to the aid of the embattled allies in their struggles against the German army who looked to be gaining an upper hand in the great struggle that was hoped to be the war to end all wars. Like millions of his countrymen, John McCrea believed that Abraham Lincoln was correct when he called the United States of America; The last best hope for the world, and he believed that America had always been a country that knew that there were things worth fighting for. Three years after this poem was written, America would answer the call by sending an army of a million soldiers to help turn the tide of battle, and they were an army that would not be denied, and when there were no more British and French soldiers to hold back the on rushing German Army, it was American Dough Boys who went into the line, stopped the offensive, and pushed the Germans back from where they came from. The British and French generals were surprised at how well the American Army fought and Black Jack Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary force, responded by telling them; For 250 years you have sent us your best blood, and now we are giving back an army made up of the best the world had to offer, and Pershing believed it was an army that could not be beat. History would bear him out.
Americans have always fought hard and well for what they believed in, and we are a nation born from conflict. When American colonists protested the tax King George the third placed on any and every item you could possibly imagine, the upset colonists said that taxation without representation is tyranny, and that they considered themselves to be good Englishmen. They asked to be represented in the British Parliament, and King George denied them what they considered to be their God given rights, they informed the King, that they intended to fight for those rights. King George felt that a few good thumps on the head would quickly bring the colonists to their senses and put them in their proper place. When the British found out the colonists were collecting a cash of arms and gunpowder in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts they marched the regulars north from Boston to seize the weapons, Paul Revere and William Dawes rode ahead of the hated lobster backs, sounding the alarm, and by morning a group of farmers and shop keepers formed on the Lexington commons, when the British red coats marched into town and form up opposite what they considered to be nothing more than a bunch of rabble. In an effort to calm his nervous soldiers, Captain Jonas Parker ordered the Minute Men to stand their ground; Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have war then let it begin here. The British commander yelled, You damned rebels disperse, and then someone fired the shot heard round the world. It was the beginning of the American Revolution.

In 1776 those damned rebels declared independence, formed their own government, and hundreds of patriots flocked to the colors of a red, white, and blue combination of stripes and stars that Betsy Ross put together in what was termed a pleasing combination. The position of commanding general of this fledgling army was given to a Virginia planter by the name of George Washington, mostly because he had once fought in the French and Indian War, was a commanding presence standing six foot two inches tall, looking splendid in his bluff and blue uniform; in short, they picked him, because he looked like a general. The road to independence was a long and difficult struggle, but our forefathers believed that there were things worth fighting for, and in 1789 the British finally realized that no matter what they did, those damned rebels were bound for independence, and they would not be denied. That year, George Washington, the most beloved figure in the country was sworn in as the first president of the United States of America on April 30th 1789. America’s first great general became her first duly elected president. Washington was reelected four years later, and perhaps his greatest moment came when he was offered a third term as president. Most Americans would have been only too happy to have him run the country for as long as he was willing to do it. In an unprecedented gift to American democracy, Washington did something that other great men like; Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, and Napoleon Bonaparte could not do; George Washington told America that they did not fight the revolution to elect another king, and this must be a government of, by, and for the people. It was, I think the greatest gift he could have given his country, that this great soldier statesman would walk away from all that power, and allow someone else to steer the great ship of state was truly an amazing gift to all of us. His actions are the actions which all other men and women who swear allegiance to protect and defend the duly elected government of the United States try to live up to when they take their oath to serve their country. It is a standard which has been in place for over two hundred years, and in all that time, no one has failed that trust which began with President Washington.

This year we will elect a new president, and America seems excited by the prospect of change. I think it is wonderful that so many Americans seem interested in this year’s election. Candidates are talking about making changes, and leading our country to a new and better time. I hope that they make good on their promises to the American People, because I too believe Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that America is the last best hope for the world. I believe the world still needs America, but I believe America needs to be reminded of who she is and what she stands for. As we stand here today, our people are laying their lives on the line in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and I hope our president takes command and gives meaning and purpose to the sacrifices are people are making for their country each and every day. I hope our president, whomever he or she may be, will stand up and state again to our people the beautiful words Franklin D. Roosevelt said to the nation back in 1941. 1941 was a bad year for the world. The lights of democracy and freedom were being extinguished by ruthless dictatorships who were metastasizing like a dark and malignant cancer spreading across the world. But their was still one last great hope, and soon Franklin Delano Roosevelt would command of and army of over twelve million men and women. It was an army dedicated to keeping the flickering torch of freedom burning, and Franklin Roosevelt wanted each and every member of this grand army to know what they were fighting for: He told them; We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God, in his own way- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want… everywhere in the world. The forth is freedom from fear… anywhere in the world. There are things worth fighting for, and I believe those four basic freedoms that have so long served us here in America, are the right of every citizen of the world, and that America will always fight for freedom anywhere and everywhere in the world where her help is needed.

We have come here today to remember and give honor to those who served there country and gave their full measure of devotion to the nation they so loved. It is fitting and proper for us to pay our respects to the dead today, but I would also like to remind us that as we speak American men and women are serving their country, trying to bring those four basic freedoms to people who have never known what it is to live in a democracy, and many of them have no idea what America is all about, but E. B. White certainly did when he wrote in the New Yorker Magazine the following words when a government board tried to define what America was all about. E.B. White wrote: Surely the board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the whole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. There are things worth fighting for.

Along with being a nation of dreams and ideals, formed of a people willing to fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all the earth’s many different people, I also believe we need to be a nation of compassion and understanding both with our foes and our friends. If there were nothing else that you would come away from this place with today, I hope you would carry with you the spirit and compassion of Abraham Lincoln who said at the end of our great and terrible civil war; With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds, to care for him who have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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