Over the last 200 years many men and women have worn the uniform of our country. They have come from both large cities and small towns of our nation; and they have never hesitated to put country before self. How we preserve, perpetuate, and honor their memory is a task, that falls to each generation of Americans. The storied history of our veterans must be repeated and retold continually to ensure its survival; and it is our duty to educate and inculcate each generation of American children lest the story of the veterans sacrifice be lost forever, and our children and grandchildren left without knowledge of their ancestors great contribution.
For many years, I believe we have been traveling down a path which has distanced us from our veterans. Holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day have seen their true purpose devalued by commercialism and self-indulgence. Few, but veterans themselves, attend the traditional ceremonies of remembrance and many Americans cannot answer simple questions about the origins or meaning of the Memorial or Veterans Day holidays. In my own life a statement once made by my father explained everything about the act of remembrance. He said, that as long as I remembered those who had died they were still alive in my mind, but that if I forgot them they would truly be gone forever. That profound truth is the heart of my own belief in making time to remember the veterans.
You see remembrance is an act of instruction. Remembrance is keeping alive something that was valuable but no longer seen and remembrance is making a personal connection. You cannot expect a statue or bronze plaque on a National Park or in front of a Court House to teach the importance of our veterans to our history. Monuments of stone and metal are mere reflections of what was and cannot speak to the reality of the veteran experience. However, we are privileged to have the living veterans of our community and our country as a source of personal contact to the ideals of loyalty and self-sacrifice we hold dear.
If, as I said, our veterans embody the values and ideals, which our founding fathers wrote into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and form the foundations of our liberty; we owe it to ourselves to enjoin in conversation with them, learn from them, and follow their lead. Perhaps it is only fitting that we stand here in front of this school to honor these veterans for they are our best teachers and our best mentors. We should seek to emulate them for they know the lessons of responsibility and devotion better than anyone else.
Speech written and given by Mark R. Day 11-5-14. Copyright by Mark R. Day 11-5-14, all rights reserved.
This speech was written and given in support of a Celebration of Veterans sponsored by the students and staff of Liberty High School in Bedford, VA. It has been slightly edited from the original version before being posted on this site.