I was privileged to stand-in for the Mayor this morning and deliver remarks on behalf of the City at the annual Memorial Day ceremony. If you have never attended, please consider it next year. The parade is short and sweet, and the ceremony is meaningful. It adds some context to this holiday.
I am always moved by the veterans I meet at this event. Today, there was at least one WWII veteran and veterans from every conflict and time since then. My 87-year-old father-in-law, Dave Albert, who survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War, and who has severe mobility issues, attended.
On behalf of the City, I thanked the public, the Village of Thiensville, the Howard J. Schroeder American Legion Post 457, its Ladies Auxiliary and the veterans in attendance. Then I delivered the following remarks. It is a humbling experience trying to adequately put into words the collective gratitude of a community.
In 1969, when I was six years old, my mother, at age 41, flew on an airplane for the first time. She got on that plane to fly to California to attend the funeral of her youngest brother, Major Richard Beattie of the United States Air Force. Dick Beattie was a pilot and died flying his B-52. He was 33.
Dick left a wife and two sons, Kevin (7) and Brock (6).
Dick never saw Kevin and Brock grow up, never had a chance to grow old with his wife Ann, and never had a chance to spoil his grandchildren.
Close to 50 million Americans have served the cause of freedom and more than 1.2 million have died to preserve our liberty.
It is staggering to think of 1.2 million lives cut tragically short. It is staggering to think of the tragedy suffered by 1.2 million families, the children never born, the weddings missed, the friends lost. It is staggering to think of the contributions those 1.2 million people could have made to science, business, the arts and our communities.
1.2 million is such a large number that it becomes just a statistic. So I like to personalize it, thinking about the price paid by Dick, his wife Ann and sons Brock and Kevin. I remember my mother’s tears. I expect that many of us have friends or relatives that make this more personal.
These 1.2 million people gave their lives for something.
From Bunker Hill to Gettysburg and beyond, our first century was devoted to securing our country to making it free. For the past century, starting with the Battle of Hammel in the First World War, continuing with World War II, and including the countless actions and battles since, through the most recent military death in March in Syria, our brave men and women have toiled and died not just for our country and our freedoms but to make the whole world free. We live in a country that uses force reluctantly, but is prepared to use it for freedom and liberation.
While Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember and say thank you, it should serve a greater purpose. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” We must “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
Ronald Reagan put it in more modern terms on one Memorial Day when he said:
Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we—in a less final, less heroic way—be willing to give of ourselves.
The men and women we honor today recognized that it is worth fighting for freedom and that, if we fail to oppose tyrants – those who would take away freedom – tyranny will prevail, freedom will be lost and the American Experiment will have failed.
Let us remember them. They have, with their blood, paid a tremendous price for our freedoms. But to make their deaths meaningful, we must carry on their work. We must be prepared to oppose those outside and inside our country who are willing to empower government at the price of our individual freedoms. We must oppose tyranny wherever it exists. We must recognize that our freedoms are never safe from those who desire to impose their will on us.
In that way, we honor those who, with their deaths, made the down payment for our freedoms.
Thank you to our veterans, living and dead, and God Bless America.