North Georgia Veterans 2017 Memorial Day Speech
By Pat Bodelson
I want to thank all of you for coming today on behalf of all those who fought and died, so that you could come here and honor them.
There are lots of other things you could be doing during this one hour—out of the other 8,760 hours available to you this year—to thank them for your freedom. You chose to come. Thank you.
Today is a national day of remembrance. It is not a day for celebration but rather a day in which we remember those who gave their lives in battle so that we could remain free.
Freedom was not given to our nation as a gift, rather it was given to us as a reward—bravely earned by those willing to sacrifice their lives.
St John wrote: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Those we remember from the past were caught up in the terrible paradoxes of time: that young men and women must wage war to end war and die for freedom so freedom itself might live.
Those same two causes for which they fought and died—peace and freedom for all humanity—still bring us together on Memorial Day to remember.
Those who died in service to their nation were like Daniel facing the lions. They chose to do what was right even when they were filled with fear. Courage is not the lack of fear. It is doing what is right—and necessary—in the face of fear.
These service members were required to practice the greatest act of their religious training—that of sacrifice for others.
For too long various interest groups have assumed a disproportionate influence in our country’s political system, to the extent that they now feel privileged to contest the fundamentals of our culture. Protestors, university leaders, and police on some campuses now do nothing to those who exceed the boundaries of discretion. Protestors can fight the police, loot and burn buildings with impunity. Article One of our Constitution says they have the right to peaceable demonstration—not to riot.
Through all of this, we cannot lose our focus on our military members and their sacrifices. Joe Galloway—who was the only civilian to be awarded a Bronze Star for valor while protecting the wounded and bodies of the dead during the battle of the Ia Drang Valley—co-wrote a book with then LTC Hal Moore about the battle called “We were soldiers once and young.”
Joe told us, at a recent reunion: “I admire you guys. When your country deserted you in Vietnam, you fought gallantly for each other and did a great job. Unlike me, you forgave your country. I will never forgive our country for what they did to you and the Vietnamese.” Strong words but accurate.
After Vietnam, people came up with a definition of how bad we felt when we were not allowed to fight and win, or how bad we felt when we lost a member of our unit. They called it PTSD—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Before we were just depressed when we saw our country’s leaders fumble with critical decisions when committing our service personnel to combat with ridiculous rules of engagement: You can’t shoot first. You can’t return fire if it came from a shrine. You need to get permission to return fire . . . you can’t do this, you can’t do that.
We tend to cry inside at funerals (or try to). Or, when Taps is played to muzzle our anger at incompetence and indecision as to mission requirements, to hide those feelings of hopelessness when trying to protect those we led—and listening to their last requests for their loved ones when they died.
It is the same today. Somewhere there is a soldier dying. Most of us have found ways to put those feelings on the back shelf. But for most of us, they haunt us still today. We want to forget but that would not do justice to those brave, young men and women who wanted to know if they a good job—did they count or make a difference?
The line sometimes gets bleary and confusing at the bottom of the chain of command: the soldier level. Those who decide nothing but are the first to die. Eighty percent of them die in infantry related actions. Most are 18 to 22 years old and are privates, corporals, specialists—those from the lowest ranks.
Let us review how most of the young service members died for us. Those we must honor today.
As John Stewart Mill said, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest thing: the decayed and degraded state of morale and patriotic feelings—which thinks nothing is worth a war—is worse. A man who has nothing that he cares about more than his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
Service personnel do not send themselves to war, they are sent by politicians and government who decide who goes where and for what purpose. Military men and women believe they are going to protect the basic principle of freedom which is a great moral attribute, which often gets caught up in confusion of purpose and political changes that occur over time. Can you imagine what the Ten Commandments would look like if they were reviewed and executed by Congress? Such as readily witnessed in many of our country’s current undertakings: confusion over purpose, mission changes and shifting support both on the battlefield and here at home.
Rudyard Kipling put it prophetically, “God and a soldier all men adore in times of battle, not before. When the war is over and the wrong is righted, God is forgotten and the soldier is slighted.”
As in Vietnam, we are there again.
We are sacrificing our young men and women while our government tries to agree on an ever-shifting list of objectives.
I believe our military needs to be given a clearly defined mission without operational restrictions, the right unit with the right equipment to match the threat requirement and all the other supporting elements they need to fight and win.
The threats in the world are numerous. The actions of their leaders tell us to be wary—nothing has changed except the prose.
It is a fact of life that democracy today cannot exist unless it is prepared to defend its basic tenant: freedom of choice. Other forms of oppressive governments would not exist if all people were allowed to choose.
We should always honor the dead. However, we must not forget those who suffered and will bear the deepest wounds and scars of war for the rest of their lives. Their example should serve to remind us that since we carry our lives and the lives of others into combat, so should we then also carry the grace of God in our hearts.
It will help us realize and understand that even death during a quest for the noble cause of freedom can be endured. You may not understand why but you must believe that it is impossible that anything so natural, no necessary and so universal as a righteous death in the quest for freedom could have been designed by God as an evil to mankind. Today, using their example and realizing that serving in our military involves life and death decisions for those with whom we serve, we have a moral obligation to learn from their ultimate sacrifices, which should have taught us that freedom isn’t free. It’s a tough road.
Please take a few moments over the next few days—in your own way, in your own words—to remember those who have nobly served their county. Don’t just do it today; try to remember it for the rest of your life.
While you’re remembering those who no longer have the breath of life, think also about those who no longer can stand or walk like you can today.
Think about those who can no longer see our flag or have the ability to hear the sweet sound of music. Think about those who no longer have arms to salute the colors they so proudly protected. Think of those who will no longer rest because they bear the deepest mental scars of war. Don’t pity them; honor them and pray for their comfort.
Service men and women serving today who undertake this occupation of great danger and personal sacrifice, for the purpose of serving defending and protecting our country are the most valuable and respectable members of our society.
And while conducting themselves with valor, fidelity and humanity amidst the horrors of war, cultivate the gentle manners of peace and the virtues of a righteous life they most amply deserve and should receive the esteem the admiration and the applause of a grateful country, their loved ones and what is of still greater importance the admiration of our God.
St Matthew wrote: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Today’s peacemakers serve so that we may have peace with freedom tomorrow. Pray for all of them regardless of service. They all count. Thank you.