Reprinted without permission – but because the author is my own father and I doubt he’ll sue me 🙂 But seriously, I had grand plans to write a tribute to all my honored Vets, and to give my thanks yesterday, but I chose to spend the family time I was given (via these Vets) doing family things because they afforded me the chance to do them. Some paid with their lives, some forever will bare the scars, but all I am eternally grateful to.
I am proud to say my father gave this speech yesterday in honor of our soldiers and vets. He was called upon to give the main speech (only speech) at the Community Memorial Day Service in Pleasant Lake. It was outdoors, on the lawn of the school near a monument honoring the veterans of the wars. The High School Band played, minister prayed, there was a singer in Civil War uniform who played the banjo and sang “When Johnny comes Marching Home.” The American Legion Honor Guard fired a 21 gun salute and taps were played to end the service. It was nice. Dad gave this following speech instead of the State Rep who was to come, but couldn’t. I personally think he was the first choice all along 🙂 YOU decide!
Just over a week ago I visited the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Eastern Illinois where my Dad, a WW2 Veteran, and my Brother-in-Law, a Korea Veteran are buried. It is a beautiful place, a place where it is hard not to let the emotions well up as you drive slowly through the fields of crosses and view the many monuments honoring our veterans. It is a place for remembering. Memorial day is a day for remembering. It is right for us to remember our veterans; it is also right for us to remember all those in our community who have gone before us – this is a time to remember.
Not everyone faces their memories willingly. A teenage girl was overheard saying, “Sometimes I wish that I had no memories, so I could forget what mistakes I have made forget the things I never wanted to see or hear. I wish I could just forget the past and move on to the future. But the memories keep flooding back.” I confess to you that as I stood by my Dad’s grave I had memories of him; some were wonderful and great – and others were painful recollections of mistakes I made and mistakes he made. While some memories may be painful; there is no way to honor the dead if we turn our backs on remembering. Looking around that National Cemetery I caught myself whispering through my pride, “We are STILL the greatest nation!”
That silent whisper stuck with me, as I left the cemetery, and continued to stick with me in the days that followed. You see, I’m a pastor, and pastor’s tend to play with words. We listen to words carefully. We use words with equal care. Something about my statement bothered me. Finally, I decided that the word STILL was bothering me, So I looked it up.
Still, as a noun is a device for making illegal alcohol; that wasn’t bothering me. It can also mean, not moving, subdued, or free of sound. And that’s not what bothered me either. Still can also mean, “At the present time”, or “Up until now”. That’s what bothered me! When we say we are STILL the Greatest nation in the World we’re not talking about motion or the lack of it; we’re not talking about the lack of sound. What we are trying to do is affirm once again our greatness as a nation. But to use STILL also suggests that there is some question about that fact. Use the word STILL and you are quantifying your statement; maybe even hedging your bets a little bit. Maybe, in a way, to say this is STILL the greatest nation is to say there is some doubt in peoples minds about it. Maybe even our own minds.
A Fox News poll taken just before the President announced the death of Osama bin Laden found that 84% of Americans think the United States is still the greatest nation in the world. Those are good numbers. But the poll also found that 64% of Americans think our country is weaker than it was 5 years ago; maybe those numbers changed somewhat after the announcement that bin Laden was found, but it’s still troubling. The good news though is that a large majority, 79% would never leave this nation for any reason, even if leaving bettered their lives in some way, or made them richer.
And then I found an interesting, and at first glance unrelated article written by the former Heavy Weight Champion Muhammad Ali in 2009. In it he recalls when he was a kid and believed that one day he would become the champion. He said, “I never thought of the possibility of failing!” He continued, “When I proclaimed that I was the Greatest, I believed in myself.” He then went on to deliver the point of his article – stating that what it takes to be great, what it takes to be the greatest, is belief; to believe it to be true.
Somehow I think that when we say, “The United States of America is STILL the Greatest nation in the world” we are in some subtle way expressing our doubt that we have the fortitude to face a challenging and difficult future. A Nation with doubt in it’s heart will settle for second best every time. If we say we are STILL the greatest enough times — at some point we won’t be the Greatest.
Am I splitting hairs? Am I fussing over words unnecessarily? Is it just a matter of semantics? Am I going too far with this? Well, you have to remember – words define who we are, words define what we do, where we are going, and words define what we are committed to. Like these words for example:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” That is the Oath of Enlistment that my Dad took in the 1940’s, my brother-in-law took in the 1950’s, and I took in the 1960’s.
Nearly 5 million men and women took that oath of enlistment during WW1, more than one hundred thousand died for those words. In WW2 just over 16 million men and women took that oath and almost a half a million died for those words. In Korea it was almost 6 million enlisted and 35 thousand deaths. For my war, Viet Nam, nearly 9 million enlisted and 50 thousand died. In the Gulf War and the current War on Terror nearly five thousand have given their lives to that oath. I can’t possibly imagine that those heros died with any doubt in their mind about the greatness of this Nation! I am positive that the honored veterans who stand among us today use no words to qualify or quantify their belief in their country, or it’s strength and ability to overcome all difficulties.
And I think of all those who have gone before us – the ones who built this school; founded this community, established it’s churches, opened it’s businesses, farmed it’s lands and worked long and hard hours to make this community and this nation better than when they found it; I think of them and I’m more than sure that they too would not find it necessary to qualify or quantify their belief in their country.
So, humor me, bear with me, and please, please understand me. We need no words but these. The United States of America IS the GREATEST Nation on the face of this earth. [There was a long break for applause here!] Those we honor and remember today made it so – and now it is our task to work and struggle and strive to continue what they have started.
It is entirely right and certainly our Spiritual work to remember those who have served and sacrificed for our freedom, and our prosperity. Doing so honors their service and sacrifice. More times than we ever would have wished; our nation has been called upon to take up the cause of the Least, the Last, and the Lost. And because of that we have on the one hand desired above all else to see the day when all wars cease – and on the other hand we have vowed to never abandon the cause of those who would be crushed by the oppressors of human dignity and freedom.
As President John F Kennedy said, Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Until the day our Lord returns to claim this poor old embattled earth, we will honor, we will remember our Loved ones, our Neighbors, and our Veterans! God has blessed them. May God Bless You, and God Bless America!
Rev. Richard L Pettys – (Vet of the Navy)