Memorial Day

When Heroes Abounded

I have always loved Memorial Day. In fact, I celebrate it every Saturday night.

My ritual for the end of the week—normally as I am preparing to speak the next day on Sunday morning—involves watching Combat!, “TV’s longest-running World War II drama.”1 When I am at home—or even in a hotel, if I can find it—I watch another adventure featuring the boys from the Company K, Second Platoon right before going to bed.

The soldiers represented by Sgt. Saunders and his men were heroes who rescued the world from tyranny in their generation. According to the National World War II Museum, more than 12 million Americans would be engaged in this conflict by 1945, serving in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.2 In total, “More than 16 million American men and women served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, and another 3.5 million worked as federal civilian employees during the war.”3 More than 400,000 of them sacrificed all that they had in this world—their very lives—for the cause of freedom; more than 670,000 additional men and women were wounded.4 When you watch something even as realistic as Combat!, you realize the level of the sacrifice that they made, and you begin to marvel that so many could return to live out healthy and productive lives.

1368 reads

Poppies & Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
  That 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 fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To 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 grow
      In Flanders fields.

 Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, 1915.

We Shall Keep the Faith

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

1560 reads

From the Archives: Ronald Reagan's 1986 Memorial Day Speech

President Reagan delivered the speech at Arlington National Cemetery after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Source: Heritage Foundation and The American Presidencey Project.

Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. 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.

I was thinking this morning that across the country children and their parents will be going to the town parade and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to 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.

3273 reads

Memorial Day Reflections, 2018

"The official etiquette is that the flag is quickly raised to the top of the staff, then slowly lowered to half-mast. What looks like half-mast is really mast-and-a-half. Just as those who died in military service gave beyond the normal measure, so we honor their memory by raising our flag beyond its normal measure." CV&V

576 reads

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet, Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

1911 version of the text by Katharine Lee Bates.

2217 reads

Speech of Gen. James A. Garfield Delivered to the “Boys in Blue”

A campaign speech by General James Garfield, who became the 20th President of the United States a few months later. Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Printed Ephemera Collection.

New York, August 6, 1880

Comrades of the “Boys in Blue” and Fellow-Citizens of New York: I cannot look upon this great assemblage and these old veterans that have marched past us, and listen to the words of welcome from our comrade who has just spoken, without remembering how great a thing it is to live in this Union and be a part of it. [Applause.] This is New York; and yonder, toward the Battery, more than a hundred years ago, a young student of Columbia College was arguing the ideas of the American Revolution and American union against the un-American loyalty to monarchy, of his college president and professors. By and by, he went into the patriot army, was placed on the staff of Washington, [cheers,] to fight the battles of his country, [cheers,] and while in camp, before he was twenty-one years old, upon a drum-head he wrote a letter which contained every germ of the Constitution of the United States. [Applause.] That student, soldier, statesman, and great leader of thought, Alexander Hamilton, of New York, made this Republic glorious by his thinking, and left his lasting impress upon this the foremost State of the Union. [Applause.] And here on this island, the scene of his early triumphs, we gather to-night, soldiers of the new war, representing the same ideas of union, having added strength and glory to the monument reared by the heroes of the Revolution.

2121 reads

General Orders No.11, Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

4699 reads