Text of Monte Ezell’s Memorial Day speech
Memorial Day Speech
Baldwin City, Kansas
I somehow imagine that it all began something like this
A small group of widowed mothers rose early to gather their children, food for the day and perhaps flowers from the garden. Horses were hitched to a buggy or wagon. Perhaps it was the oldest living son who gathered the reins as they started the pilgrimage to a nearby cemetery where they would meet with the other family groups who had determined to spend the day cleaning the cemetery and placing flowers and other mementos on the graves of family members who had died in the recently ended War between the States.
During the trip, the smaller children might have gathered wild flowers to add to what they had brought from the family garden as the others spoke of small matters, all the while remembering the fathers, brothers, uncles or friends who had marched off wrapped in splendor, but never returned, left buried on some battlefield due to the necessity of the day.
Depending on the distance they needed to travel, the morning might have been spent in the tasks of trimming grass around headstones, clearing fallen branches and perhaps even the task of adding to or repairing the fences that surrounded the hallowed ground.
Noontime might have seen all of them gathering to share their food with others as the talk of family, the recent war and the small events of past days constantly returned to the ones who were no longer with them.
At some pre-arranged time, these families gathered in some central place to speak of the dead and to pray for their souls and for those who were left remembering their lives and feeling the loss of so many who had given their lives for this great cause that recently had been won (or lost), but which had certainly torn the fabric of our nation.
As the ceremony finished, I can see the brief touches exchanged, hugs and tears shared, and the beginning of the journey begun that would take each family back to its home - a home that would echo with the emptiness of one gone, now more resounding because of the remembering.
Eventually, the Nation as a whole would imitate this first day of remembering. First for those who died during the War between the States, then to commemorate those who had given their lives in the War to End all Wars. And as other wars came, demanding the lives of more men and women, the Nation has come to embrace all of them in this day of remembering.
And so, we are gathered together today to continue that tradition of remembering. We stand together today because we are joined by this common bond with those who have come before us as they have gathered to remember, to honor, to pledge commitment to and to rehearse the events that have led us to this point.
Many of us are veterans of our own wars. I doubt that any are here who served in that War that didn't end all wars, but from World War II to Korea, to Viet Nam and the Dominican Republic, from Granada to Panama, from Iran to Somalia right down to Afghanistan, men and women have answered the call to duty and found themselves in harms way because our country needed them. I doubt that any served who really wanted death as a result of that service, no matter how our heads might have been filled with the glory that surrounds them now, but they did die.
And we have gathered today to pay homage to them and to the gift they have given us.
For truly they have given us a gift. They have gifted us with the right to call ourselves Americans. They have spent their lives so that we might continue to live as we have lived for more than two hundred years free to live out the greatness that is the United States of America.
In order that we might continue in this tradition of honor, I want to suggest that we REMEMBER the gift and the giver at this time. In order to help us with that task, I am going to use the word remember as a guide to lead us through that task.
R - is for Rehearse it is imperative that we constantly rehearse the need for remembering. We must recall the history of the country that led to the giving of lives in our Nation's defense. Not all of that history is good, but it has become hallowed by the gift of lives spent in our Nation's call to duty.
E is for envision We must envision what life might have been like without that gift. We must ponder what our country would be like had that gift not been given. We must understand that a death in Africa or Europe in the 1940's really did make a difference in the life of our country now. We must believe that lives given in Korea, Viet Nam or Grenada made a difference in our country, even if we did not immediately know what that difference was.
M is for Memorialize the demand of that gift of life brings with it the demand to set memorials to the givers. These memorials must be local, and personal as well as distant and National. We each must set a memorial in order to remember.
E is for Enjoy these gifts would be for nothing, if we did not continue to enjoy and use the freedom and the way of life they died to preserve. Yes we must stop to remember, but we must continue to live out the dream that was the foundation of our country.
M is for Misuse We must NEVER allow ourselves or others to misuse this freedom or the demands for vigilance that it has placed on us. Complacency in the aftermath of these gifts dishonors those who gave them. We must be involved in the life of our country, locally and nationally. Or else that gift becomes tainted.
B is for Biography It is important that we learn as much as we can about at least some of those who gave the gift and share that with others, if not more than with our children who will be the next to continue this tradition of remembering.
E is for Eternal the gift that was given has eternal consequences for all of us. Those who died at Gettysburg have not given a greater gift than those who died in Somalia. Each has given a gift that must be remembered and honored for as long as there are men and women who call themselves by the name American.
R is for Rehearse we must continue the process of remembering, of rehearsing the events that led to the need for the gift over and over again. It is not enough to just gather once a year to remember some vague time or to gather because others are doing so. We must teach each other of the reasons that the gift was given. We must remember that many, perhaps even too many died that we might stand together today.
We will depart from this gathering taking with us what we brought to the gathering. It is my prayer that we will also take with us both sorrow and gladness that men and women who were just like us did not refuse to answer the call to duty and thereby find themselves called upon to give their lives in defense of all that we hold dear. May God grant each of us the power to hold dear that gift and live as if it mattered. For indeed it does.