By Dwight R. Gunnarson
Delivered at the Memorial Day Ceremony at Woodlawn Cemetery
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 yard work, 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.
A big part of how I interact with people whether it is socially, politically, or professionally, I often ask myself why? Why do people think they way they do and why do they make the choices they do in certain situations. Why? For what? For what reason? For what cause? For what purpose? When it pertains to the average American, you and I, the answer to why people make the important choices they do is pretty clear. It’s to advance themselves financially, to elevate their class, or to gain more social power to attract opportunities to better the lives for themselves and their families, and those they care about. Makes sense, right?
I believe the act of making these types of choices has a direct correlation to an American ideal we don’t hear much about any more. And that ideal is called the American Dream.
According to Wikipedia, the American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.
As Americans, I think we can all buy into this, right? We use our freedom of choice to make our own American Dream a reality. We make choices to pursue a life of unchallenged happiness and prosperity. And the more of us that work hard for that dream, the more America prospers for all. The American Dream is the ideal promised to us by the very foundation of what America has been built on.
Now, why do people volunteer? Why do we as Americans serve our own people whether it’s in a volunteer organization, educational position, or any other way to unselfishly donate time and resources to help people other than ourselves? I believe we as Americans volunteer to help others achieve their own American Dream. Volunteerism is a noble act that every American should participate in.
Digging a little deeper in thought, I now ask the question, why do some Americans choose to courageously volunteer and serve our country and its citizens in a way that quite possibly results in experiencing some of the most horrific experiences any human can endure. I am talking about making a single decision… to serve your country… to defend your country… to go to war… knowing full well that a possible outcome is the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make.
Granted, there have been some stressful times in our country’s history where some of our military heroes did not have a choice to serve, but they still made the choice to fight with courage and honor for their fellow soldier and ultimately their country.
Why?… Why?… Why do some Americans choose to serve in our armed forces and put themselves in harms way knowing full well that their own American Dream will be put on hold and possibly be extinguished?
The answer is simple. They do it, unselfishly, to protect the opportunity for all of us, you and me, to strive for our own American Dream. I believe it’s just that simple.
On a single day, today, where we all come together to remember our fallen heroes who have made that choice and paid the price, our price, with their lives, how best can we as ordinary citizens honor those who have sacrificed their lives and their own American Dreams?
We honor them by not only appreciating WHY our fallen heroes made that choice to serve, but respecting what they have sacrificed and by doing our part to push ourselves a little bit harder, each and every day, to not only achieve our own American Dream, but to pay it forward and serve others through volunteerism to help them achieve theirs.
So while we are enjoying the rest of this beautiful weekend and holiday, let it be a reminder that if it wasn’t for the dedication and sacrifice made by our fallen heroes to protect the ideal of the American Dream, none of us would be here today to honor them.