Memorial Day Thoughts, Everlasting Thank You

For the last week, I have been trying to decide how to portray a post for today, as Memorial Day holds a very special place in my heart, like many veterans and their families.

What was important to me, was I wanted to portray the emotions I feel when I think about this day, or any day when I sit down and reflect on my brothers that paid the ultimate price. I think about them quite a bit. I think about the day, the situation, the outcome. I imagine their futures, of what they could have become. I think about their families and what they have and will continue to endure. Mostly, at the end of this long reflection, I always thank them. I always tell them that I am so thankful, because without their sacrifice, I may not be doing what I am doing right now, at this very moment.

So this morning, while driving to work on Duty, I heard this speech on the radio. It brought tears to my eyes, and made me start that long thoughtful reflection process. At the end, I knew this was what I wanted to post today, for our readers to maybe get an ounce of the feeling that came over me while driving to work this morning. This is from Ronald Reagan in 1986, at Arlington National Cemetery.

… It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember. …

Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid and passionate lives. There are the greats of the military: Bull Halsey and the Admirals Leahy, father and son; Black Jack Pershing; and the GI’s general, Omar Bradley. Great men all, military men. But there are others here known for other things.

Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper’s son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, “I know we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.” Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, “Wait a minute and I’ll let you speak to them.”

Michael Smith is here, and Dick Scobee, both of the space shuttle Challenger. Their courage wasn’t wild, but thoughtful, the mature and measured courage of career professionals who took prudent risks for great reward — in their case, to advance the sum total of knowledge in the world. They’re only the latest to rest here; they join other great explorers with names like Grissom and Chaffee.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on “Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.” Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: “At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.”

All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins. Not far from here is the statue of the three servicemen — the three fighting boys of Vietnam. It, too, has majesty and more. Perhaps you’ve seen it — three rough boys walking together, looking ahead with a steady gaze. There’s something wounded about them, a kind of resigned toughness. But there’s an unexpected tenderness, too. At first you don’t really notice, but then you see it. The three are touching each other, as if they’re supporting each other, helping each other on.

I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they’re still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam — boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.

That, of course, is the lesson of this century, a lesson learned in the Sudetenland, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Cambodia. If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. And that’s all I wanted to say. The rest of my contribution is to leave this great place to its peace, a peace it has earned.

Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.

Cpl. John T. Olson 
LCpl. Michael V. Postal 
LCpl. Taylor E. Prazynski 
LCpl. Marcus Mahdee 
PFC. Stephen P. Baldwyn 
LCpl. John T. Schmidt III 
LCpl. Robert T. Mininger 
GySgt. Terry W. Ball 
LCpl. Jacob W. Beisel 
SSgt. Eric E. McIntosh 
Cpl. Scott J. Procopio 
LCpl. Kun Y. Kim 
HM. Geovani Rafael Padilla Aleman 
PFC. Chase A. Edwards 
LCpl. Justin D. Sims 
LCpl. Richard Z. James 
LCpl. Kevin A. Lucas 
LCpl. Nicholas J. Whyte 
Cpl. Riley E. Baker 
Cpl. Julian A. Ramon 
Cpl. Timothy D. Roos 
LCpl. Adam R. Murray 
PFC. Enrique C. Sanchez 
Cpl. Joseph A. Tomci 
Cpl. Christopher T. Warndorf

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