Major General Walt Lord's Memorial Day Remarks
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
MG Walt Lord
Memorial Day Ceremony – Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial
27 May 2019
Gold Star Family members, Councilmen Oh and Squilla, Judge Dugan, Distinguished guests, Brother and Sister Warriors and Veterans, friends and loved ones of our blessed fallen heroes, thank you! Thank you for all that you do to support us and each other…thank you for hosting and supporting this solemn ceremony, and thank you for the tremendous honor in inviting me and Grace - a native son and daughter of Philadelphia - to return to our hometown to share in it with you!
Before we reflect on what Memorial Day is and why we observe it, I always take a minute or two to talk about what Memorial Day is NOT, but sadly, what it has become to many.
Memorial Day is NOT “national first barbecue day.” Memorial Day is NOT “national first big sale of the summer day.” Memorial Day is NOT an excuse to take a four-day weekend…and a couple of extra days away from work. Please, don’t get me wrong…I love bargains and barbecues and I think everyone deserves some extra time off every now and then to unwind and spend time with loved ones. But that’s NOT what Memorial Day is all about. Because you are here with us today, I know I’m preaching to the choir.
But even the most patriotic among us benefit from an occasional reminder of the other things that Memorial Day is not. Memorial Day is NOT about thanking those who currently serve in our military…we do that on Armed Forces Day. Memorial Day is NOT about thanking those who have honorably worn the cloth of our nation in the past…we do that on Veterans’ Day. We who serve and have served realize that we are absolutely blessed by the level of support we enjoy right now from our fellow citizens - and we are humbled every time someone thanks us and expresses that support. But that is NOT what this holiday is all about. Now, on this Memorial Day, I will deviate from my own rule, but I think you’ll understand why, especially here on this sacred ground. More on that in a few minutes.
Memorial Day serves a most solemn purpose…to recognize and honor our fellow countrymen and women who have given the last full measure of devotion to our nation - and paid the highest price to be called Americans. All across America this weekend, in places just like this, our fellow citizens gather to do just that.
Memorial Day traces its roots to a number of events that occurred at the end of the Civil War, one of which played out in Columbus, Mississippi. Columbus was a hospital town, and in many cases a burial site, for both Union and Confederate casualties brought in by the trainload from the battlefield at Shiloh. And it was in Columbus where, at the initiation of four women who met at a house on North Fourth Street, a solemn procession was made to Friendship Cemetery on April 25, 1866, where they intended to lay flowers at the graves of the Confederate dead.
As the story goes, one of the women noted that nearby Union graves were unattended, drab and forgotten. Troubled by this, she spontaneously suggested that they decorate the graves of the Union fallen as well, as each grave contained someone’s father, brother, or son. Carefully, they decorated the Union graves - until there was nothing to distinguish them from those of the fallen Confederates.
A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the act and reported it. The story, picked up in papers throughout the nation, inspired General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic - with additional prompting by Philadelphian Martha Kimball - to direct in 1868 that May 30th be a day “for decorating the graves of the comrades who died in defense of their country - and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, or hamlet churchyard in the land.”
The original name of this holiday was “Decoration Day.” Logan picked late May because of the abundance of fresh flowers, each one a symbol of renewal and life’s beauty. He chose the date because it was not the anniversary of any specific battle in American History, highlighting that this holiday would honor all of our fallen heroes, regardless of era.
As a Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, I stood in the square on Camp Phoenix in Kabul for far too many memorial ceremonies for Warriors who had, just a day or two before, given the supreme sacrifice.
Those of us who have had to say farewell to fallen comrades find memorial ceremonies especially painful…painful because, as hard as we may try, we cannot escape images of their smiling faces, of our final moments together, the memories of shared hardships and the unbreakable bonds that those shared hardships created, and the thoughts of our last conversations with them…often centered on their hopes, dreams, and aspirations… on what they planned to do when they returned home…the celebrations they would enjoy with their loved ones.
But we know that in order to ensure that they are never forgotten, we must endure this pain - and we pray that as we memorialize them each year, that pain of their loss fades just a little more, to be replaced only by the memories of our happiest times with them.
Though some believe that we’ve grown weary of living in a nation at war, every year, without exception, Americans faithfully gather throughout Memorial Day weekend to remember our fallen Warriors, reflect on their sacrifice, and give thanks for the freedoms secured by that sacrifice.
Support for any war effort may come and go for some people and the flags hung throughout our neighborhoods may fade and be taken down. But thoughts and memories of our fallen heroes shine as brightly in all our hearts and minds as they ever have.
As President Reagan once said, “Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again.”
We were not at war when President Reagan uttered those words. Today, of course, we are…and we have lost far too many heroes since then and each represents a precious life lost on a far-away battlefield and a grief-stricken family here at home. We know that Memorial Day is a day not only to remember our newest heroes, but also to reflect on our heroes from wars past…and the number of those heroes is staggering…since the birth of our nation, 1.3 million Americans have given their lives in securing our nation’s liberty and our freedom and security.
Here on earth, we mourn their loss. Beyond this earth, they are welcomed into heaven’s paradise by their battle buddies who preceded them. And they wait to be joined by their beloved brother and sister Warriors who will someday follow them.
And today we pause to remember them.
In almost every cemetery across the United States you will find the final resting place of at least one American Warrior. In almost every church, school and workplace you will find someone who has lost a loved one to armed conflict.
And in each one of our hearts is a special place for the men and women who believed in their country and their fellow Warriors so deeply as to spend the last days of their lives bravely battling those who violently oppose our way of life, knowing that each day could be their last
Now it is our duty to reflect upon this and to reinvigorate our desire to honor our fallen heroes. The fact that you have joined us today tells us that you take that duty seriously, regardless of your individual motivations for being here. Maybe you too have served our country. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one who did. Or maybe you participate in Memorial Day as a personal display of your patriotism and your gratitude. Whatever the reason, please accept my thanks on behalf of my fellow Warriors and, more importantly, on behalf of those who are unable to join us because they have paid the highest price on our behalf.
It has now been nearly 18 years since we were attacked on our own soil, and we have felt the satisfaction and victory of eliminating those who planned and supported that attack. But those symbolic victories are just that...symbolic. For just as OUR troops continue to fight when a leader’s life is taken, we know that our adversaries will also continue to fight, and that the threat to our nation has not passed
America’s sons and daughters continue to march into harm’s way, and right now, tens of thousands of men and women of our Armed Forces are deployed overseas or preparing to deploy. They are among the fewest we have had deployed at any time since 9/11. But that fact provides little solace for the thousands of families they have left or will leave behind, so please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. We must continue to show support and pray for our Warriors’ safety and for their families’ strength.
Before I close, as I mentioned at the start of my remarks, I’m going to take a few moments and deviate from one of my own rules.
This year, our nation continues to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the War in Vietnam…a war that divided our nation sharply, but produced a truly special generation of Veterans.
This generation of heroes certainly did not enjoy the kind of public support that my generation has. In fact, from many of their fellow citizens, they suffered insults and disdain. It was not until the beginning of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm - decades after their return from places like the Ia Drang Valley, the plains of Binh Dinh, the rice paddies of Cao Lanh, and the tunnels of Cu Chi - that our nation awoke, and began to pay these great Americans the honor and gratitude they had earned through their service and sacrifice.
The amazing thing about our Veterans of that era is that they never asked for that honor or gratitude…they never asked for our thanks or our sympathy. They came home from Vietnam and did what most Veterans do…they took off their uniforms and they quietly and humbly went back to work.
But as our armed forces prepared to take on our next big fight nearly 20 years later with the First Gulf War at the start of the 1990s, they did something else…something that was truly remarkable. They stepped up…and they stepped up in a big, big way. They vowed that no generation of American Warriors or Veterans would ever again deploy without support - or return without honor and gratitude. Every living generation of our fellow Veterans has provided that support and gratitude, but our Brother and Sister Veterans from the Vietnam War laid the foundation on which that overwhelming effort has been built.
So we now have a new generation of combat Veterans – the post-9/11 generation - my generation - that has been consistently recognized, in many ways thanks to those who weren’t.
To you Vietnam Veterans here with us today, please accept my deep appreciation - and a heartfelt “Welcome Home” - on behalf of a grateful nation and most especially from my generation of Warriors and Veterans…we stand a little taller and a little prouder…because you have allowed us to stand on your shoulders.
And thank you all for gathering here today to honor those who have given the last full measure of devotion to our nation and for helping to keep our collective promise never to forget our fallen…and thank you again for allowing us to spend this great day with you.
God bless each of you, God bless our fallen heroes and their families, and God bless the United States of America.