On Memorial Day weekend, we honored the men and women who died in service of our country. We also expressed our heartfelt appreciation to those living veterans who risked their lives, but who were not called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. We also honored those members of the Armed Service and military reserves who have never been called upon to put themselves in harm's way, but who were and are ready to do so when called upon.
In times of peace, or when the war is far away, we tend to forget those who serve to protect the freedoms we enjoy. I love the poem, Recessional, by Rudyard Kipling. There is a certain solemnity about those elegant lines which call upon us, not only to remember, but to see ourselves in the light of the larger picture of history. Read these first two stanzas:
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Host, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!
Some thoughtful writer put it this way:
It is the VETERAN, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the VETERAN, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the VETERAN, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the VETERAN, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
We salute all the men and women, dead or alive, wounded or well, who have served our country in the name and spirit of freedom and truth. We owe them a debt that money cannot pay, and which words cannot describe. It is not a matter of which war in which they served or during which years of peace they stood ready to protect and defend the citizens of this country. There have been big wars and little wars, but no war is little to the soldier who risks his/her life for our country. And, no death is diminished by the size or length of the engagement in which a brave soldier dies. We salute, honor and offer our thanks to every soldier who has served this country, from the Revolutionary War, which made us a nation, to the present war against terrorism being waged in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world.
Five years ago, we dedicated a long over-due memorial park in Washington, D.C. to the soldiers of one of the most extensive and serious wars in which we have ever been engaged. WWII. Sixteen million people served in that conflict. Four hundred thousand American soldiers died and hundreds of thousands more were wounded in some way. Approximately three million WWII soldiers are still alive and they are dying at the rate of 1100 each day, and that number is increasing each year. That is almost a half million each year. Soon we will not have among us the brave men of this community, whose names I will not try to recite, who fought in that war to save the world from a tyranny worse than death. Well, let me recite one name. There is not a man I know that I hold in higher esteem than that irascible, grey-haired, loveable old soldier, Charles Ray Skinner. His story will send chills up and down your spine, and bring tears to your eyes. Charles Ray Skinner had a dozen excellent chances to get killed. He never thought he would live to come home, but he did come home to tell his story, and what a story that is. He is a cardinal example of the bravery Tom Brokaw called the GREATEST GENERATION. My hat is off to Charles Ray Skinner and his kind.
I did the funeral service for my oldest brother in January this year. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, which was Hitler's last futile attempt to gain a significant victory in WW II. My Cousin Louie went down on the USS Savannah on September 11, 1943. Another cousin Bill came home, but was deeply emotionally scared by the war. There was hardly a family in our community that did not have someone in that war.
To you, the old soldiers of WW II, whose grey heads are filled with terrible memories, some memories too awful to speak, we salute you. We want you to be mindful of our love and appreciation before you leave on the LONG JOURNEY. You are truly our heroes!!! LORD GOD OF HOSTS, BE WITH US YET, LEST WE FORGET - LEST WE FORGET.