MEMORIAL DAY 2009
MUSEUM OF FLIGHT
Good afternoon, Dr. Dunbar, distinguished guests, particularly our Tuskegee Airmen, elected officials, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to be here today, to participate in yet another Memorial Day observance at the Museum of Flight.
Memorial Day was created out of compassion and empathy. In 1863, grieving loved ones in Columbus, Mississippi dedicated a day to cleaning the graves of Confederate soldiers and placing flowers on them. They noticed that the graves of Union soldiers that were nearby were overgrown with weeds. While grieving for their own fallen soldiers the Confederate women understood that these Union soldiers were being mourned by families and communities far away. The survivors of those Confederate soldiers cleared the tangled weeds and placed flowers on the graves of the Union soldiers as well. That event is now thought to be the first Memorial Day; nineteen years later our nation observed its first official Memorial Day.
Memorial Day has always been a holiday that commemorates not nationalism or partisanship, but the universal inclusiveness which understands “No greater love than this does any man have that he lay down his life for his friends”. Those we honor today were ordinary men and women, compelled by love of liberty and country; ordinary men and women who acted in an extraordinary way, with selfless service, honor, integrity and courage. It is our duty to honor those who sacrificed their lives for freedom, those who fought, those who died, those who stand ready today to do the same, whenever the defense of freedom demands it; those who gave us a priceless gift we enjoy every day.
Sixty years ago at a Memorial Day service, General George Patton said, “We come here to thank God that men and women like these lived, rather than regret that they died.” The lives of the fallen soldiers we honor today – our fathers, our mothers, brothers, sisters, children and friends – were valuable lives not lost in vain. Each lost life contributed to the nation we are: a free nation, a strong nation. While we mourn the lives lost, we must also celebrate the lives lived and be grateful for them.
I am honored and humbled to be here to day to remember those who died defending us, those who stood between liberty and tyranny on our behalf. President Ronald Reagan once said, “No weapon, nor arsenal is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women”.
Today we remember the faces of loved ones forever young, the voices of loved ones forever silent. We remember the depth of their sacrifice. We remember the courageous men and women who died so that we can live in a land of liberty and plenty. We remember the sacrifice of those lost and their legacy of duty, courage and decency. We remember, because if we don’t remember we risk forgetting that freedom is not free. But to remember is not enough. We must prove ourselves worthy of the great sacrifices by rededicating ourselves to the peace and principles purchased with those lost lives. Today we must dedicate ourselves to the work of the fallen, and seek to build a just and decent society at home which can be a force for justice throughout the world.
It has been said that “Old soldiers never die”. We must not allow them to simply fade away. We can best remember those forever young, forever silent soldiers we honor today by better understanding what their silence says. These dead soldiers cannot speak, but many a poet and writer have spoken for them. The poet Archibald MacLeish speaks for them when he asks:
“Who in the still houses has not heard them?
They say, Our deaths are not ours; they are yours. They will mean what you make them mean.;
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing, we cannot say. It is you who must say this.
They say: We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. We were young, we have died. Remember us.”
May God bless America and all of us.