Memorial Day Speech

The following is part of a Memorial Day speech that I gave several years ago at the state veterans cemetery on McCrory Lane.  I think these words bear repeating as we observed Memorial Day this year.

“Last fall, while on a visit to Washington, I had one of the most moving experiences of my life.  It happened late one afternoon in Arlington Cemetery where I was at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It was almost dusk, and all visitors except me had left the historic shrine.  I turned away from the tomb and the staccato march of the guard on duty.  As I stood and looked across the Potomac toward the Washington Monument, I seemed to hear a voice behind me, and this is what I thought I heard.

“ ’I am the Unknown Soldier.  Nobody knows who I am because I am everybody.  I am the boy from Main Street who left the newspaper at your door.  I am your son.  I am the boy whose family wept when I failed to come home.

“ ’My countrymen, I am your conscience.  I am looking at you from this sentinel post of honored glory where you assigned me to permanent duty.  I am now concerned about our country and its future.

“ ‘I am concerned that there is a preoccupation with one’s own security; one’s own immediate desires.  Today, the overriding concern – not merely of youth, but of other large numbers of our people – often seems to be extreme self-interest.  We have departed profoundly from President John F. Kennedy’s famous words:  Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

“ ‘The freedom that you enjoy today does not exist because our Constitution says it should.  Rather, freedom exists because people, over the course of our history, have undergone the fatigue of supporting it and have paid dearly for it.

“ ‘The milestones of our country are littered with human sacrifice.  We have fought wars around the globe in freedom’s name.

“ ‘Each new generation must be aware that the task of maintaining our heritage of freedom never has been, and never will be, free of pain, free of struggle, or free of individual and collective effort.

“ ‘There can be no freedom without sacrifice, no rights without responsibilities, no rewards without effort.  There is no final battle for freedom.  The struggle will continue as long as life itself.

“ ‘I love America with a passion.  I do not apologize for wanting her to be strong.  I want all Americans to believe that our security is the responsibility of each individual citizen – not just in some figurative sense, but in actual, grim reality.
“ ‘I gave my life for your freedom.  For that, you erected this shrine in my honor.  You carved an inscription over my tomb which reads:  Here rests in honored glory a soldier known but to God.  But the inscription I am hoping for will not be written on any stone; it will stand in the dictionaries of the future, and it will read:  War – an armed contest between nations; now obsolete; unknown.’

“Suddenly, in back of me, the sentinel cried:  ‘Halt.’  It was the changing of the guard.  I heard the voice no more, but I have often thought about what the Unknown Soldier had said to me.  He said that now is the time for us to tell the true meaning of our heritage of freedom, especially to our youth, and to awake them to their responsibility to keep it alive – to pass on both the fruits of our freedom and the will to preserve it.”