Memorial Day Address – New Woodstock, NY
28 May 2007 – LtCol Kurt Wheeler, USMCR
Good morning. I feel privileged to be here today. It is both an honor and responsibility to put into words what I hope we all feel in our hearts. Let me begin by thanking all of you for being here. In so many places in America, Memorial Day has become a neglected ritual, not so here. I am proud to come from a place that so faithfully honors its heroes.
To begin to understand the full measure of the sacrifice we are here to honor, we must pause to appreciate our own blessings. Just for a moment, stop your mind from racing and soak in this moment in time. Breath in the fresh country air, feel the gentle breeze on your face, look at the green trees, think about the people around you, the relationships you cherish, all the things that make life so dear. Those we honor today will never enjoy any of these blessings again.
During our nation’s history, more than one million Americans have forsaken these blessings for our sake. This fact is all the more poignant during a time of war, when each day, more names are added to the long list of heroes we honor today. The opportunity to speak to you on this occasion is all the more special for me today having so recently served among the latest generation of American heroes. I used to worry and wonder if my countrymen today would have what it takes to rise to the type of challenges that past generations have faced… I am greatly encouraged by what I have seen and experienced in the last several months. The service being rendered today honors the proud legacy passed down to us by preceding generations.
There is something special about events like this in small towns, something poignant, something personal, that can never be replicated in the anonymity of a large city. We all know each other, we share a common heritage that deepens the communication between us. So many of the young people I met overseas came from places just like New Woodstock. Small hamlets like this one seem to give a disproportionate share of themselves in service to our nation. Perhaps it’s because we have all experienced the best of what America has to offer so richly. It’s not surprising that the official birthplace of Memorial Day is another small town, just down the road in Waterloo, NY.
The other benefit of small towns is that there is an unwritten rule among speechmakers that the length of an oration must be directly proportional to the population of the place in which it is given. So let me speak to you, from the heart, of why it so important for us to be here today.
The young people who are overseas today deserve our support, our respect and our prayers. I can’t begin to convey how good, how noble, how wonderful this latest generation of young patriots is. I was humbled to serve among them. I can’t begin to convey to you how courageous, how selfless, how humane, how utterly professional the young people serving our nation today are.
Those who have fallen deserve every honor we can give them today. Take a moment to reflect on all that they have given up so that we might continue to enjoy the wonderful life we have here.
Our nation deserves our support today. Despite our struggles and our challenges, we remain a symbol of virtue for countless people around the world.
It’s ironic, even things that seems like challenges can be symbols of our country’s greatness. Those of you who know me are aware of the frustration I often feel about our media, especially when it comes to giving a fair accounting of the war. Yet the greatest virtue of that media is that it is free. I read late last night that Hugo Chavez shut down Venezuela’s most popular tv station yesterday because he disagreed with its content. Take a moment today to give thanks for all our freedoms… press, religion, speech, assembly.
Our military deserves our respect today. Militaries all over the world serve as an agent of repression against their own people. Not only is our military forbidden by law from any similar role within our own borders, but they are actively engaged in promoting human rights and the rule of law around the world. Two years ago I was fortunate to travel to the Republic of Georgia. Soldiers once part of the Soviet army being trained to NATO standards by US Marines gratefully acknowledged classes on lawful orders and human rights. Iraqi soldiers and police now under US tutelage are often being exposed to rule of law concepts for the first time. What a blessing to have a military that is as just as it is powerful.
Memorial Day is a chance to reflect on those who have fallen and on what they were defending. I thank God today for America’s heroes and for the nation they died defending.