COL RICHARD T. CURRY
COMMANDER, 37 IBCT
MEMORIAL DAY SPEECH
26 May 2008
Camp Buehring, Kuwait
Memorial Day is the time for Americans to reconnect with their history and core values by honoring those who gave their lives for the ideals we cherish.
More than a million American service members died in the wars and conflicts this nation fought since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for independence. Each person who died during those conflicts was a loved one cherished by family and friends. Each was a loss to the community and the nation.
The observance of this day was born of compassion and empathy in 1863. As the Civil War raged, grieving mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and other loved ones were cleaning confederate soldiers’ graves in Columbus, Mississippi, placing flowers on them. They noticed nearby the union soldiers’ graves, dusty, overgrown with weeds. Grieving for their own fallen soldiers, the confederate women understood that the dead union soldiers buried nearby were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleared the tangled brush and mud from those graves as well as their own soldiers’ graves and laid flowers on them too.
Soon the tradition of a “Decoration Day” for the graves of fallen soldiers spread. On May 5,1866, when the Civil War was over, Henry Welles of Waterloo, New York, closed his drugstore and suggested that all other shops in town also close up for a day to honor all soldiers killed in the Civil War, union and confederate alike. It was a gesture of healing and reconciliation in a land ripped apart by conflict.
Sixteen years later, in 1882, the nation observed its first official Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who died in all our nation’s wars.
For decades, Memorial Day was a day in our nation when stores closed and communities gathered together for a day of parades and other celebrations with a patriotic theme. Memorial Day meant ceremonies at cemeteries around the country, speeches honoring those who gave their lives, the laying of wreaths, the playing of Taps.
In some places, these ceremonies continue, as we see here. Those of you present at this event remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. You come here to honor our fallen comrades by your presence. You understand that on Memorial Day we honor the ideals and values those soldiers stood for and died defending.
Sadly, many Americans have lost this connection with their history. All too many Americans today view military service as an abstraction, as images seen on television and in movies. For a growing percentage of the American people, Memorial Day has come to mean simply a three-day weekend or a major shopping day. Families might still gather for picnics, but for many of them, the patriotic core – the spirit of remembrance – is absent.
Memorial Day, like the military itself, is largely cut off from its historic meaning for many Americans. They have forgotten what the military stands for in the nation’s history.
Many Americans have no experience with or connection to the military. There are many reasons for the disconnect. We have fewer and fewer veterans to share their stories. And many of our older veterans – especially those from World War II and Korea – tend to be reticent. They often don’t talk about their service.
Today, we have the smallest Army we’ve had in 50 years. Unlike past periods in our history, the majority of members of Congress today have not served in the military. Many Americans do not have any relatives or even neighbors who serve now or have ever served in the military. In fact, many Americans today have never even met a soldier.
As Margaret Mead once said so well, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
You are doing an important mission, making a difference, by serving your country here today. You are making the sacrifices that all soldiers do in order to make that difference and indeed change the world for the better.
What is it that inspires and enables ordinary citizens to rise to the challenge of battle, to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in service to their country? What is it that motivates them to respond and contribute wherever and whenever called upon to do so?
The answer is simply put by General MacArthur; DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY. The proud legacy of our Army – and our country – is grounded in this core mind set and our Army Values.
We in this country owe a great debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live free. We can start to pay that debt by not forgetting, by remembering what they did and what they stood for.
Listen to these words by Charles M. Province:
“It is the Soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us Freedom of the Press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us Freedom of Speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the Freedom to demonstrate.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial;
And it is the Soldier–who salutes the flag,
Who serves the flag, and
Whose coffin is draped by the flag–
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.”
I would also be remised if I did not take this moment to also recognize those who stand before me, current veterans of the GWOT, your contributions will also go down in our proud history, be proud of that service, I ask that you continue to make a difference with your words and actions. Thank you for all that you do and for attending todays ceremony.