MORROW, OHIO – This is the speech given by Lt. Col. David Volkman at the 2006 Memorial Day Ceremony in Morrow, Ohio. Volkman took a leave of absence from teaching American History at Loveland High School to serve two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Thank you for joining us here on this Memorial Day, 2006. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to speak here today, but more so it is an honor and privilege to be here with all of you who recognize the importance of paying our deepest respects to the more than one million men and women who have given their lives in defense of American ideals.
We are here on Memorial Day, this most important day of remembrance for our country, to honor all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen and merchant marines who have made the ultimate sacrifice throughout our history.
We count among them not only the heroes of the past who died fighting the tyranny of totalitarianism, but the heroes of the present who have died fighting the tyranny of terrorism- the over 2400 in Operation Iraqi Freedom and nearly 300 in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Today we stand here to honor the memory and sacrifice of American heroes- men and women who stood up for America and American values, who stood up for you and me, knowing that putting on the uniform carried with it great risk, but knowing that risk was necessary to the survival of liberty and justice in our world, and who made the final sacrifice in that endeavor.
Many of you here today are veterans. Some of you have served in foreign lands, and some have seen combat. You can tell us about real heroism. You can tell us about those who never came home. You can tell us about men and women who became heroes not for fame or fortune.
You can tell us about men and women who became heroes by becoming part of something bigger than themselves, for their willingness to serve the ideals of duty, honor and country, for giving the last full measure of life for their fellow soldier, their family, their country and their God. You can tell us about men who give real meaning to the words of our Lord that “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.“ May we all remember and honor their sacrifice.
I know that this is a day of very real personal sorrow for some of us here, and millions more across America. The grief of loss is as strong for those who lost a loved one years ago in World War II, Korea or Vietnam as it is for those of us who have lost a friend or family member in Iraq or Afghanistan. Today is a day for all of us to share in mourning, because we all have lost one of our own, a member of our American family. We all grieve for the loss of an American who went to war to fight for right and made the ultimate sacrifice.
But we must do more than grieve. We must remember and honor their sacrifice. We must, like President Lincoln at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, think about how we can best do this. Lincoln spoke-
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain –
that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Freedom is not now, nor has it ever been, cheap. There is a terrible price that must be paid when history demands it. And history reminds us that America has repeatedly been confronted with evil and presented with a choice- to allow it to triumph, or to fight against it and prevail over it. Since 9-11 we have again been reminded that there is evil in this world, and we have made a choice to fight against it. In the words of our president, spoken just after 9-11:
"I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them. Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice -- assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America."
But let us not fool ourselves and think that just words ever did or ever will destroy evil. We should take lessons from history and know that ignoring or appeasing evil will only strengthen it. Brave men and women are fighting to defeat it today, just as they have so many times in our past, just as many of you and your fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters have in years past, so that our American ideals will continue to illuminate our world.
Many men and women throughout our history have made payment on the price of freedom. Many have paid the price with time in service, deployed away from home.
Some have paid the price with wounds that you can see, some with wounds few of us will ever understand. Families have paid with the sacrifice of time apart, with the constant fear of loss, with living in a world which often goes on around them oblivious to what they face every day. And we are here today because some have paid, and will pay, with their lives. This is the price of our freedom.
Today, as in 1863, our responsibility is the same. You and I have an obligation to these brave warriors by never forgetting them. We must honor them by not taking for granted what they did for us, ever. Each of us, in our own way, must work to understand the meaning of their sacrifice, and help our children to understand it.
We must always remember the price they paid and know that freedom never was free, is not now, and never will be. We must work to fully understand what they fight for and what they fight against, to understand not only the cost to them of fighting but the cost to all of us of not fighting. We must live lives worthy of the price they paid to buy us our freedom.
Today and in every tomorrow, let us not forget what we have in this great republic, and let us not forget all of the men and women who fought to their dying breath that we may live in freedom, and work for justice. Let each of us, in our own way, live lives that are worthy of the sacrifice these men and women have made. Remember these heroes, and what they have bought for us with their lives. They died that we might live in peace and freedom.
Finally, Memorial Day is also a time for remembering those who still stand on the frontiers of freedom. Remember the tens of thousands of Americans, including many from our own community, who serve today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the globe in defense of all that we believe in. Keep all of them, and their families who live in daily uncertainty and fear, in your prayers, and pray that they may not be added to those we honor on Memorial Day. And let us remember SGT Matt Maupin and his family, America’s lone MIA in the war on terror.
May God bless the United States of America, and the American heroes we honor today.