Adapted from a Memorial Day Speech to the citizens of Haines City, Florida on May 31st, 2021.
It was an honor to be a part of the Haines City, Florida, Memorial Day ceremony where we joined together to honor and remember the people who gave their lives fighting our Nation’s wars. During the ceremony, I realized how important it is for leaders to do simple things well - like honoring someone for an accomplishment or celebrating an organization’s memorable events.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, as the “birthplace” of Memorial Day, and that celebration as a Federal holiday. In Waterloo, a century earlier, the local citizens held a ceremony on May 5th, 1866, to honor local citizens who fought and died during the Civil War. On that day, the citizens and their leaders felt they should honor in some special way the approximately 620,000 Americans who died during the Civil war. Businesses closed their doors and residents flew their flags at half-staff just like many Floridians did on Memorial Day in 2021.
I joined the U.S. Air Force a few years after President Johnson declared Memorial Day a Federal Holiday following my graduation from Winter Haven High School in 1977. The next 38 years of my life were a special time for me and my wife Sandra and two sons as we formed life-long friendships, learned about service to our country and developed a deep commitment to honoring our fallen troops who died defending this great Nation. I attended many Memorial Day ceremonies where senior military officials and important local dignitaries performed the simple - but important - task of speaking about and honoring our fallen troops who fought valiantly in one of our wars before losing their lives for the common good.
Today, after 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan, all our troops are coming home, and we can call that war over. There are many, many lessons to be learned about our long war in Afghanistan - but for now, we should simply honor our fallen troops for their unselfish sacrifice.
Our military is stronger and more powerful today than any other military in the world, and yes, we can win wars decisively, but we should never underestimate or minimize the pain that families and friends feel when they lose loved ones fighting wars in distant lands. And we should never forget to honor every one of our fallen Americans on Memorial Day each year at the end of May.
President Ronald Reagan said this on Memorial Day in 1983 at Arlington National Cemetery:
“Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost - it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we -- in a less final -- a less heroic way -- be willing to give of ourselves.”
Another famous leader, Army General George S. Patton, reminded us how we should honor our fallen on Memorial Day when he said:
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died….Rather we should thank God such men lived”
Let’s commit ourselves again today to always celebrating Memorial Day in the United States and hope that our leaders - local, state and national - continue to do the simple task of telling the story of our brave men and women who gave their lives in defense of this great nation. Good leaders do simple things well.