As Mayor, I am privileged to say a few words after the Legion Post’s parade in honor of those who have made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. Here is what I said today:
May 27, 2019
Remarks by John Wirth at the Mequon-Thiensville Memorial Day Observation
America’s first official Memorial Day observance – then called Decoration Day after the practice of decorating graves – occurred shortly after the Civil War. At that first official observance, the keynote address was made by Congressman James Garfield, Garfield was a former Civil War general and later an assassinated President.
Looking out over Arlington National Cemetery, Garfield recognized the futility in any speech trying to do justice to the personal sacrifice made by our country’s fallen soldiers, saying:
I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung.
But Garfield also recognized the appropriateness of recognizing the nature of that sacrifice. He said, in words more beautiful than any I can come up with, that the dead:
[S]ummed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.
Although 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.”
We can regret the lives cut short by war and the families destroyed. But if we stop there, we have missed the point of their lives and their deaths.
The examples of these heroes reinforce the worth of heroism. Their patriotism reminds us to love our country. Their service should prompt us to serve our own communities. Their selflessness teaches that a life worth living is one that puts the greater good ahead of personal gain and comfort. Their ultimate sacrifice in protecting us should remind us to protect those who cannot protect themselves. And their deaths in the pursuit of freedom and liberation should challenge us to fight against those outside and inside our country who are willing to take away rights and freedoms, whether here or abroad.
In these ways, 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.