May 30, 2005
Memorial Day is a beautiful and necessary ceremony. It is fitting that we pay tribute to those that gave their lives for our country; to honor the brave.
It is also fitting that we know the full cost of war. Remembrance is a partial obligation we owe to those who won our freedom.
Kneeling at the grave of my son in Arlington National Cemetery, I have wondered “why and why not.” Why evil men like Hussein and Bin Laden are alive while so many brave and noble souls have died.
I look up the grassy slope of that cemetery and see row upon row of white markers. I look down the same slope at the open field waiting to be tilled by a grateful nation. White markers by the thousands, individual testaments to the goodness of man; to the willingness of one man to give his life for another.
We honor our dead in different ways.
While visiting Arlington last summer, an old man stood near me. He had come to visit his neighbor’s son, who is now my son’s neighbor.
He looked at the marker and said, “God’s will. This is all God’s will.”
He walked slowly down the row reading each marker, repeating the refrain, “God’s will, all God’s will.”
I wanted to ask him if it was God’s will that John was dead and Osama Bin Laden was alive, but I did not. I feared the answer.
A woman from Pennsylvania whose son is buried near John called us shortly before St. Patrick’s Day to say she sensed their thirsty spirits. She asked permission to pour Guinness on their graves. Who could deny soldiers a free beer?
Sharing the same funeral home with us in Arlington was a gathering of older families there to inter as a group together the remains of their loved ones, killed together decades ago in a helicopter during Vietnam, their bones only recently returned.
Remembrance is a small price we pay to keep faith with the dead.
We here today share a wound that will not heal. We don’t want it to. We remember and we cannot forget.
Yet we must stand up from the graves of our children, brush off the soil that is now their home and move on.
There is a time when our nation requires our children to put down their toys and pick up the tools of war.
Did their deaths have meaning? Their sacrifices purpose?
Justice is made by men on this earth. It will not exist without the courage to make it manifest.
This is seen every day by those who wish to see: The policeman patrols a dark alley, the soldier crawls into a dark cave, the marine steps through a doorway.
But how best to honor them? We owe the fallen more than remembrance.
If we, the living, fail to pick up the burden of responsibility, to do what is right in this world then who will? … And when?
The lasting commitment of the living toward making a more perfect and just world is a lasting tribute we can make to the dead. ... It keeps the faith. Honors them with action.
This often requires courage: courage to act, courage to speak, courage to determine and do what is right.
It is unacceptable to the Vietnam vet, who has suffered much, to see a new generation return home wounded in mind and body. He will do something about it.
It should be unacceptable that wounded are sent anonymously to Walter Reed without name or acknowledgement by their neighbors or government.
It is unacceptable for generals to dishevel the truth; to fail to provide the troops with the tools they need to finish the job.
It should be unacceptable for analysts to distort intelligence, or for leaders to lie because it is expedient.
It is wrong to hide the costs of war.
To break the faith with the public is to break the faith with the dead who gave so much.
It is wrong not to speak in a democracy. Democracy cannot fear discourse or dissent. Silence is deadly.
It has become too easy to send another man’s son to war.
The only justice we will see in this world is through the courage of the living to act in the right as God has given us the ability to see it.
The courage to act is the final tribute to those who came before us, and a lasting legacy for those who come hereafter.
Making a better world is our right and our responsibility.