Why We Come Here - Lincoln Hills Memorial Day Observance
Why We Come Here
Lincoln Hills Memorial Day Observance
Congressman Tom McClintock
There is always a temptation to conflate Veterans Day, in which we honor ALL those who served our nation’s armed forces, with Memorial Day, in which we honor those who gave their lives in the defense of our nation.
All veterans, of course, accepted that risk. For those we honor today, the risk was realized, and it is to honor THEIR memory we set aside this day to pause and consider the enormity of their sacrifice and of our nation’s debt to them for that sacrifice.
Lincoln, at Gettysburg, expressed the difficulty in doing so. Looking out over the quiet battlefield, he noted, “In a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far beyond our poor power to add or detract.”
The patriots we honor today are beyond our power to honor; yet we come here anyway. Why?
I think we come partly to draw inspiration. We reflect on young lives, just coming of age, with all the hopes and joys and aspirations of long and productive lifetimes ahead – all sacrificed to preserve the Constitution, and the Republic that it created, that to this day represents what Lincoln called the “last best hope of mankind.”
The great Fredrick Douglass compared his devotion to emancipation to that of John Brown and marveled, “His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light, his was as the burning sun. Mine was bounded by time. His stretched away to the silent shores of eternity. I could speak for the slave. John Brown could fight for the slave. I could live for the slave. John Brown could die for the slave.”
So it is with these young men and women, who gave everything to preserve our freedom.
I think we come also partly in gratitude to know that in every generation there are such heroes among us who will step forth from the safety of hearth and home and into mortal peril to protect their fellow citizens. Patton put it best when he said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
We come, I think, also, to recognize that although the suffering of these fallen heroes ended on the battlefield, those they left behind suffer every day. Look into the eyes of a gold star mother and you will see how infinite and real can be both pride and pain. And it is pride only that holds back that pain. When we come here to ceremonies like this to honor their loved ones, in some small way we help fortify them from their loss.
But finally, we come, as Lincoln said, “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, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the fine point of it. The dead we honor today died for an oath they took, “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That responsibility belongs to every citizen – not just those who take up arms for our country – but to every one of us for whom these young Americans gave their lives.
You have come to thank and salute these fallen heroes. I think if they were here today, they would thank and salute each of you. Because by being here, you are making a powerful statement that they did not die in vain, that in this generation their sacrifice is recognized and fully valued, and that their lives now inspire their countrymen to take up where they left off. If they were here today, and look into your faces, they would know that their families would be comforted, and that their devotion to the preservation of our Constitution would be taken up by those they left behind.
So let us go forth today, as Lincoln said, “to take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” That cause was the preservation of the American Constitution which their oath to support and defend was upheld with their very lives.
Let us go forth today, as Shakespeare said, “That their story shall the good man teach his son,” to give thanks that there are among us these heroes willing to leave hearth and home and to step into harm’s way to preserve this, the perfection of a dream that began in Athens 25 centuries ago.
And let us go forth today fully mindful that there are many families among us who do not go off to barbecues and parties on this day, but rather take up quiet vigil in cemeteries around the graves of their loved ones.
You all had a choice of where to be today. You could have slept in and sought out all the summer-time amusements that this time of year ushers in. Instead you chose to be here today, to comfort these families, to take inspiration from the heroism of their loved ones, and to take stock of just how valuable is the American Constitution and the Republic it created.
As long as there are Americans who make the choice you have made today, we can be sure that this Republic will endure and that this Constitution will continue to be the source of inspiration for the aspirations of people throughout the world who seek to be free.
And we can be sure that whatever difficulties may confront us, the future is as secure as it is bright.
And that is a reality that is as certain as the fact that each of you is here today.