I am honored and humbled to be up here with so many great veterans and so many great Americans. Thank you for all of you being here today. You honor our fallen heroes simply with your presence.
Most people today associate Memorial Day with the unofficial start of summer. A time linked with opening up cabins, doing yardwork, and throwing parties. However, Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in our country’s armed forces. This holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
I believe Memorial Day is truly the most important holiday for our country. We celebrate our independence on the 4th of July, but without those who sacrificed all, we would not have an Independence Day. Today is a day of respect and mourning and it is a day of remembering and learning.
I was honored when I was asked to give this speech today. I accepted but was fearful because I asked myself, what the heck do I have to offer that was so eloquently presented before us year after year at this very service. For most of my life, from a young child all the way to a somewhat mature adult, I have stood where you all stand today and heard many speeches on what this holiday is all about. Some of the speeches I heard were veterans telling heart-wrenching stories depicting the heat of battle and about the brothers-in-arms they lost during those battles. I listened to speeches that highlighted historical war time events that set the tone for who and what America is today. I listened to inspiring speeches by our leaders of that past that were so well written that they made my heart sink but yet gave me a tremendous sense of pride.
I then started to think about those who served and were an influence on my life and quickly realized… … even though I know plenty of people who served in the military… I have never lost anyone close to me due to war. I remembered my uncle, Herb Hoffman, who served as a tank operator in the pacific during World War 2. I remembered my Godfather, Bud Raustadt who was a paratrooper in Europe, also during World War 2. And then I remembered my best friends father, Ed Purcell, who valiantly fought and was wounded in Viet Nam. I never had the opportunity to discuss the experiences they had in those wars… …but even as a kid I got the sense they all were perfectly fine leaving those memories in the past.
So I started to ask myself, “Why me. What experiences do I have… and what qualifies me to be at this very podium. There certainly has to be somebody more worthy and more qualified to be in front of you today discussing the finer points and true meaning of Memorial Day.
You see, I chose not to serve in the military. I chose instead to go to college… …and to pursue a career in engineering. I chose to start a career… and to start a family. I chose to stay in Annandale, the city in which I grew up. I chose to passively serve my community, state, and country in other ways. I chose to believe in the American dream and I choose to work as hard as I possibly can to achieve it.
So again, why am I here? Why are we all here?
After a lot of thought, it dawned on me.
I believe the men and women who stepped up, served, and lost their lives in war did so knowingly or unknowingly for one reason. And that reason is to allow all of us here today to choose our own destinies in hopes for the good. They served and died for their country to protect our freedom of choice. The ever so important ideal that sets America apart from any other country in our world’s history.
Now obviously, I am not talking about the type of daily choices we make such as what Netflix movie to watch next, what are we going to post on Facebook, or what we are going to throw on the grill this afternoon, but the choices are we going to make, as individuals, to positively advance the betterment of ourselves, our families, our community of Annandale, and even our country.
We gather today to honor heroes who left behind wives, and husbands… sons and daughters, moms and dads. Many who never got the chance to start a career, or a family, or ever had the opportunity to pursue the American dream. Today, we celebrate great lives cut too short so that we may live, make choices, and enjoy all the blessings that comes along with being an American.
Memorial Day is not a day to debate on what wars are just and which ones are not. In fact, throughout history, all of America’s wars have always been to some degree controversial even though this country was born out of war.
Regardless, all those heroes lost. All those disabled for the rest of our lives. There has always been one constant. The American soldier, sailor, airman and marine has always accepted the challenge issued by one of the founders, Thomas Payne, who said “That those who expect to reap the blessing of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it”. Therefore, answering the call of America in her time of need… to fight and die for your country and the man by your side… is always worth it!
We all desire peace across the world, but my gut tells me there will always be conflict and struggle. And when it threatens our freedom to choose, to live, and to pursue any opportunity to innovate and provide, we as Americans, need to be thankful for those who step up, serve their country, and pay the ultimate price to protect our freedom.
So how best can we honor those who have fallen? Especially those of us who have not served. We can honor them by taking advantage of every opportunity and making choices that not only better ourselves but more importantly better the lives of those around us.
And why should we do that? Because that is what each and every one of our fallen heroes would have done… if they had the chance.
Even though this holiday is only one day of the year, I ask of you today, what choices will make and what actions will you display, each and every day from this point forward, to honor those who sacrificed their lives… to allow you to do so.
Thank you, and God bless us all, and God bless America.