Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Memorial Day Speech

The following is the speech given by Major John Meyer, USAF, retired, at the Northwood Memorial Day services on Monday, May 28, 2012.  The speech sings of the sacrifices of a few, and the community of us all.  We thank him for sharing this with us.

Memorial Day - 2012 

Friends, neighbors, fellow veterans it is a privilege to gather here in freedom to honor those who have given so much in service to our great nation. The freedom we enjoy is continually being purchased for us at an enormous price. Today thousands of our men and women are engaged in war to ensure that you and I can continue to enjoy freedom.

It is never over. Missions may end but the legacies left and the pain of their absence endures.

It is never over. The pain of the absence of our brave young men and women endures. I felt everyone knew Lt. Col. John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” It has been called the most memorable war poem ever written. My 6th grade teacher read it to us. When I talked about it on Saturday I found out that not everyone knows it and decided to add it to my talk today.

Lt. Col McCrae wrote this poem on the battlefield in Belgium in 1915. Although he had been a doctor for years it was impossible to get used to the suffering, the screams, and the blood here and Col McCrae had seen and heard enough in his dressing station to last him a lifetime.

One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lt. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. Lt. Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.

In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe and he spent 20 minutes of precious rest time scribbling 15 lines of verse in a notebook.

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 

By the time our last remaining combat troops returned from Iraq in December 2011, nearly 4,500 of their comrades lost their lives during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.

We continue to lose American heroes every day in Afghanistan and in military training accidents and missions around the world. The loss to their families, friends, fellow service members and country is permanent.

Some were only teenagers and most of those killed were under age 25. In the eyes of their loved ones, they are forever young.

Today Marvin Everhart is placing a wreath in memory of his cousin Donald McNamara, a Marine Corporal who was killed in action in Vietnam. He is the only Vietnam veteran killed in action with Northwood, IA listed as his home of record.

Donald McNamara was a student at Northwood/Kensett when he enlisted in the Marines in March 1964. He has been described by those who served with him as: a very good man, a “hardcore Marine’s Marine,” he was compassionate, a leader who never let a squad member get into a situation over his head, a happy guy, and a good friend.

He was killed in action on July 21, 1967 when his unit was ambushed on patrol and a 6 hour firefight ensued. During the action he manned an M-60 while his squad would advance and fall back.

Marvin Everhart was serving in the Army in Vietnam at that time and accompanied the body home to Albert Lea where Donald’s parents were living at the time. Northwood was thus bypassed in providing recognition for his sacrifice.

Remembering our fallen once a year is not enough. The widows, widowers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children remember EVERYDAY.

The empty seat at the dinner table, the smaller gathering on Thanksgiving, and the voice of a loved one heard only as a distant memory are constant reminders that they are gone.

There are also other people like us who can enjoy time with their families because of the sacrifices that others have made.

Scripture tells us that “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

From the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism, one million American men and women like Corporal McNamara have made the Supreme Sacrifice. They died so that we could continue to cherish the things we loved - - - God, country and family.

That is why we are gathered here on Memorial Day…to honor the memory of our fallen warriors who have given everything for their country.

We are also reminded on this day that in each generation, brave men and women will always step forward to take the oath of allegiance as members of America’s armed forces, willing to fight and if necessary die for the sake of freedom.

In reflecting on the sacrifices of their comrades during World War I, the founders of the American Legion saw four common pillars or reasons as to why Americans so often in the past and still to this day answer their nation’s call – even to the point of sacrificing their lives.

They do it to provide a strong national defense --- to keep America safe and secure against those enemies who would destroy our American way of life.

They do it for their fellow comrades --- for those fighting by their side against all odds and for those who eventually separate from the military but proudly claim their status as veterans.

They do it for American core values of God and country --- family, patriotism and our religious heritage.

They do it for their children… so that they can grow up in an America that is strong and free.

It is through this last pillar – children – that we can continue the spirit of Memorial Day each and every day.

More than 6,400 American men and women have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the latest wars. Many were parents.

The innocence of their grieving children will be challenged by the dramatic change affecting their security and comfort in the family routine. Their hearts will feel the sharp sting of their loss, leaving them only with memories of their loving mom or dad. Life as they have known it will be much harder from now on.

There are many tangible things we can do to honor the service of our fallen heroes. First and foremost is to take care of their families. In some cases this means providing financial assistance to help their children obtain higher education. The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans Administration all offer assistance.

We honor the living comrades of the fallen – the wounded, injured and ill members of our Armed Forces through various programs. Often times these veterans are surprised that so many want to help them. We don’t do this because of any requirements. We do it because we want to. It is simply the right thing to do.

Memorial Day is not about picnics and parades – although there is nothing wrong with enjoying and celebrating our American way of life. Memorial Day is really about remembering those who made our way of life possible.

May God bless our fallen heroes and may God bless you for being here today to remember them. Thank You.

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