Ragan Memorial Day Speech
The modern American media announces Memorial Day as the “ unofficial beginning of summer.” There are picnics, baseball games, concerts and activities everywhere as Americans pursue happiness in ways as individual as each of those celebrating.
On one level, perhaps, they are celebrating the end of another year in the classroom or, possibly, the beginning of a well-deserved break from the drudgery of work. It is good that they can celebrate. Unfortunately, for some, this is the only level on which they are celebrating. However, and fortunately for our country, there are many more Americans who understand today’s celebration isn’t only about vacations and family outings.
There are mothers who mark this day with tears running down their cheeks remembering a son or daughter who is not here to march in a parade. There are young widows whose hearts, both, swell with pride, and break asunder, at the same time as they pause to tell young children why daddy cannot be at their ball game or concert. There are grizzled, old veterans, like me, who stand a little straighter as the flag passes, or struggle with a lump in the throat at the echoing notes of the national anthem. Perhaps, our eyes fill and, even, over flow a bit, if we hear a lone bugle sounding Taps. Those penetrating brass tones remind us of a bond with lost comrades-in-arms so strong it is impossible to completely explain to someone who has not experienced it.
Shared experience, hardship, mutual risk and dedication to common ideals forged that inexplicable bond. It has the curious power to turn a grimace of loss into the faintest of bittersweet smiles, perhaps, dampened by a bit moisture trickling by its edge. Most importantly, today’s memories of that unfathomable bond strengthens, anew, our shared dedication to those noble ideals we held in common.
On this Memorial Day, our acknowledgements of generation after generation of patriots who gave the last full measure of devotion on the battlefield must fortify our resolve to guard those ideals for which they sacrificed. The challenges to those ideals come not only from armed aggressors battled by the brave men and women we celebrate today, but, sometimes, from far more subtle sources.
Since before the beginning of our great republic there have been, and there will continue to be, ambitious politicians with honeyed words and silver tongues. These people prophesy impending doom and then promise safety for a little bit of this liberty or that. Others of their kind will bemoan the terrible condition of the poor and guarantee incredible prosperity for everyone if only we give up this right or that one. Vigilance and clear thinking are the only antidotes to these insidious encroachments on liberty. It matters not, whether, these encroachments are engineered by corrupt officials seeking power and self-enrichment, or worse, well meaning, but misguided zealots. The heroes of this holiday would be no less dishonored by our surrender to one of the tyrants they died to defeat, than if we were to meekly surrender our liberties in the name of temporary safety or fleeting prosperity to politicians or fanatical activists. Freedom is not free… its price is eternal vigilance.
Just as the Divinely bestowed right of freedom has a price, so, too, does that of justice. It is for us, all of us, to dedicate ourselves to making certain that these noble heroes of this day did not sacrifice in vain. We must strive constantly to sustain the idea that every citizen stands equal before the law. Those we honor today gave all to ensure there should never be advantage of position, wealth, popularity or birth before the bar of due process, anywhere in this great land. It is left to us to jealously guard that heritage. It is not easy. Nonetheless, it is “we, the people” who “established and ordained” the document these heroes fell defending. We, the people, should do nothing less.
It falls to us, to keep bright, the memory of these brave Americans and what they have done. It is a burden that we should shoulder gladly. That burden, properly borne, shapes us and makes us fit to carry on the enduring legacy of the great American experiment, a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
As we leave here today to enjoy our cookouts and trips to the lake, let us pause briefly and say a prayer of thanks for all of those who willingly stood in harm’s way and gave their all for our liberty. Remember, too, in that prayer, American families that no longer have a son or daughter coming home to visit, or a parent to tenderly hold a beloved child, or a spouse to embrace. Let us reflect on names like the Argonne Forest, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Inchon, Da Nang, Beirut barracks, Kobar Towers, USS Cole, the Twin Towers, Helmand Province, Anbar, and Basrah. Remember, too, there are thousands of other names.
May God Bless America and the Great State of Tennessee!!