Memorial Day is a day dedicated to the remembrance of those who gave their lives to help preserve the freedoms we hold so dear. For me it is a day to think of the everyday, ordinary duties that I have and the seemingly hard tasks of the day-to-day grind and then take a moment to remember all the men and women who truly did extraordinary things to make my world as ordinary as it is.
I am a 32 year veteran of Vietnam, Desert Shield/Desert Storm and the Global War Against Terrorism. My family has a long history of service – my father was a 26 year Army vet who earned two Bronze Stars with General McArthur in the Pacific Theater. My father-in-law was a Marine, my oldest daughter, Major Demere Kasper Hess has served tours in Iraq, Qatar and Afghanistan and has also earned two Bronze Stars. My youngest daughter, Christina, is a Lieutenant serving aboard the U.S.S. Higgins.
As Ronald Reagan once said, as freedom loving people: “All of us denounce war—all of us consider it man’s greatest stupidity. And yet wars happen and they involve the most passionate lovers of peace because there are still barbarians in the world who set the price for peace at death or enslavement and that price is too high.”
Today we should remember three words which I am certain have a deep and abiding meaning to any veteran as well as those now serving on active duty: These three words are – honor, faith, and commitment.
Honor is a concept that never grows old because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if that defense comes at a high cost. That may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?
The veterans we remember this coming Monday weekend are part of a roll call of honor. The best of life was before them, yet they were willing to risk everything. Some people ask veterans why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to risk your lives? Veterans know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and commitment. It was honor in its finest sense.
These United States citizens had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought not just for themselves or for their country but for all humanity, and faith that a just God would grant them mercy for what they were called upon to do. They like their brethren before them and those serving and dying for us as I speak in lands far away, possess a deep knowledge that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest; that there is a vast moral difference between the use of force to defend freedom and the use of force to subjugate others. They were committed to their cause because of that honor and that faith and we are the better here today for their honor, faith and commitment.
It was Edmund Burke who wrote “To love one’s country, one’s country ought to be lovely.” Burke’s point is that the highest form of patriotism is not based on the simplistic “My country right or wrong.” Nor is the highest form of patriotism based on loving your country simply because it is yours. Rather, the highest form of patriotism is based on loving your country because it is good.
The United States passes Burke’s test. America is worthy of our love and sacrifice because, more than any other society, it makes possible not just the good life, but the life that is good; it gives to all of us the freedom to choose and the challenge to all of us gathered here today is to choose goodness.
As John Kennedy once said: “This country does not forget God or the soldier. Upon both we now depend.” We should always honor the soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and merchant mariners on whose service our existence as a free nation continues to depend.
I pray that we as a free people never forget. May God continue to bless the United States of America with such honorable, faithful and committed men and women willing to sacrifice everything in the defense of our freedom.