Twelve years ago, at Wilton’s Memorial Day remembrance ceremony, that year’s parade chairman, Ron Toothaker, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1965, said, “Memorial Day is not about war. It is about people.”
It is about many people. Traditionally, Memorial Day is a time to remember those who served in the military and are no longer with us. But instead of remembering them in death, let us remember them in life. They lived and served, protecting the freedoms we enjoy every day. The freedom to speak our minds. The freedom to gather in public and make our beliefs known. The freedom to worship as we please. The freedom to be safe walking down the street or inside our homes. The freedom to pursue the lifestyle of one’s choosing.
The late World War II veteran and newsman Richard Hottelet was the keynote speaker in 2006. He enlarged the circle of remembrance to include those who give their lives for their community and the general good. He said we should also honor the whistle-blowers, the nay-sayers, the rebels, and those from different backgrounds, who are all “part of this rich mosaic that forms American life.”
“Let us think ahead,” he said. “What will future generations think of us today? What will they say of our society? Will it be that we groped for material goods, and richness was the choice we made, the goal we set? Will they remember us for compassion, or as xenophobes, afraid of outsiders, concentrating on our own desires? Will they see us as we like to see ourselves, doing our best with a mind for our community, doing our best for the country we live in? Let us do what we can to make sure we will one day be remembered as we today remember those on whose shoulders we stand.”
Sgt. Matt Eversmann, a veteran of the Battle of Mogadishu and the keynote speaker in 2008, opened his address with a quote from Scripture: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
He went on to quote from the book of Isaiah, chapter 6, verse 8: “And then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us’? And I said ‘Here am I Lord, send me.’ Because each and every soldier, sailor, airman, Coast Guardsman and Marine who gave their life said “send me,” we are better men, better women, better citizens, better parents, better sons and better daughters.
Doug Jones, who served as a first lieutenant in the all-black 447th U.S. Army regiment during World War II, said, while addressing the Kiwanis Club’s Memorial Day luncheon in 2013, “Our world is getting smaller each and every day. And we must learn to live together, which is easily said — but more difficult to put into practice.”
Perhaps it will be a little easier to put into practice if we remember Eversmann’s words and live up to the ideal of being “better men, better women, better citizens, better parents, better sons and better daughters.”
If we live up to Hottelet’s hope that we will do our best for our community, our country, and our planet.
In doing so, we will be living up to the sacrifices the fallen service members made for us from the early days of this country to today. What better way to honor them, than to be our best selves and treasure all we have thanks to their sacrifices.