(Speech given by yours truly at the town’s ceremony)
“Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
That quote is from General Logan in 1868, on the establishment of Memorial Day. Memorial Day was established, following the Civil War, as a day of mourning for those fallen in the service and defense of the United States. It is fitting that Memorial Day was first associated with the Civil War, for that war is the most glaring example of the nation’s failure to live up to its ideals as a free republic.
The observance of Memorial Day spread gradually, by the 1890’s most of the Northern States recognized it. Following World War I, it became a national day, honoring the fallen Americans of all wars, and so it continues to the present. It is probable that in New Hartford, the earliest public observances started in the late 1880’s, when a monument for the Civil War began to be discussed by New Hartford’s veterans. That monument, in the North Village Cemetery, would be dedicated on July 4th, 1893. Nine percent of New Hartford’s population served in the Civil War, about on average for Connecticut towns. That is a percentage that America has not seen since, for which we are thankful; though, one need only look at the town’s parks and graveyards to be reminded that the need for such service and the sacrifice continues to the present day. The roll call of the fallen is long, and grows ever longer.
We are often told to thank the active military, and veterans, for their service. And that is surely a right thing to do. But, I would argue, that a quick word of thanks is an easy option, little repayment for a life.
The military’s oath, states in part: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. Their faith is given not to the people, not to the government, not to the continental land mass labeled on a map.
To the Constitution of the United States. That remarkable document which sets forth a narrow way between the individual’s inherent free will and the collective duties of society, with the idea that in so doing the greatest possible freedom of opportunity can be preserved.
As civilians we take no such oath. Our lives are not the coin which buys our freedom back from enemies. We are not asked to bear undaunted the final sacrifice. But if we neither honour nor guard our freedom, than our thanks, and our love, is poor indeed.
Freedom is not easy or safe; there are no guarantees of equal success. It costs, it costs lives, it costs time, it even costs money. But it does not cost the spirit. There is no greater thanks than to live as free men. There is no greater way to honour a willing sacrifice of a life than to ensure that the cause for which they died is not corrupted. The fallen give up their lives, not for love of war, but that we may live freely.
We live because of love, and so on this day and all days, we should remember Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.