Remarks on Memorial Day 2014 Hopedale, Massachusetts

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May 28, 2014 · 9:29 pm

Remarks on Memorial Day 2014: Hopedale, MA

Just yesterday I took an early morning walk through this beautiful cemetery. The grounds are perfectly kept; the grass green and trimmed; the leaves on the trees are in full bloom. We can always count upon that.

What struck me in the morning mist was the abundance of American flags that mark the graves of each veteran who is interred here. We may thank the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for that respectful act of kindness each year.

Then I came to this very spot and reviewed the names inscribed on our War Memorial. There are 26 names listed here. They are citizens of Hopedale, Massachusetts, who gave their lives in service to this country during time of war. The list dates back to the Spanish American War. There were several
Hopedale residents who fought with valor in the Civil War.

Our town was settled in 1842 and, ever since, each generation has been touched by war. As I looked at the flags yesterday morning I was taken by the fact that those young Scouts who decorated the gravestones have never known peace in their lifetime. During the course of their short lives Americans have died in conflicts in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Their parents’ lives have been touched by war deaths in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Grenada, Panama and Vietnam; and their Grandparents by Korea and the Second World War.

Even in times absent of conflict we are never far from war, the recollections of war and the consequences of war. It is our oral history that connects the generations. The last survivor of the American Revolution died just after the Civil War and the last survivor of the Civil War died just after I was born. We have ceremonies such as this to honor our war dead, to be sure. But in so honoring them we are ensuring that our present and future generations never forget how high a cost our freedom demands.

Plato reminds us that only the dead have seen the last of war. That axiom has stood the test of time for 2500 years. But it does not mean that peace is defined as the absence of war. There are things worth fighting for. And if they are worth fighting for then one must be ready to bear the highest price of all, death.

For the names etched upon these granite tablets I wish I could tell you that each death was meaningful. I cannot attest to that for they were sent into battle by mere mortals. But I can attest that each life was meaningful. We can tell the stories of how they lived and how we loved them; stories of how they touched our lives and those of others; stories of how they left their mark on society, even if only for a short while.

We, of course, honor our war dead this day and it is right that we do so. But just as cemeteries are for the living, ceremonies are for the living, too. We use them to connect with our past and to stay faithful to our traditions. They serve to bind us in a common heritage. Sometimes that heritage is not fully recognized.

For instance, the National Honor Society at Hopedale High School just inducted their newest members this past week. Did you know that the National Honor Society chapter is named in memory of Second Lieutenant Francis Wallace? Francis was the class president and Valedictorian of his high school class in 1937. He lived on Inman Street, graduated with distinction and went on to the US Naval Academy. He entered active duty in the Army Air Corps on December 13, 1941, less than one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One year later on New Year’s Eve 1942, he was dead; killed in action when his plane went missing in the South Pacific. Little more is known about the circumstances.
It has been 77 years since Francis Wallace graduated from Hopedale High School. For you many Hopedale High School students in the band or in the audience today, you share a common bond now with one of the names on this tablet. You are fellow alumni.

The dead that we honor here today answered the call of their country because their country asked. Some died in conflict, some died in training; some died alongside a comrade in arms, some died alone. All died in noble service to their country.

To serve this country in uniform is a mighty experience. To serve alongside people of honor and courage is a privilege known by too few of us. This brotherhood was described by William Shakespeare in the now famous St. Crispin’s day speech from Henry V written more than 400 years ago:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

I will close with a quotation from the great American General George S. Patton:
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

Thank you. And may God bless the souls of our fellow countryman.

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On Linus van Pelt and Apollo 8 at Christmastime: Radio Essay for December 24, 2013

It is a well worn axiom that the more things change the more they stay the same. At 50 plus years, the decade of the 1960’s seems so long ago. Not surprisingly, life seemed very different then. But was it really? Let’s look at life in 1965. The war in Vietnam was ramping up to 190,000 fighting troops; the Watts section of Los Angeles was in flames; a first class stamp cost five cents. And “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted. It has run faithfully every year since then.

It turns out that Charlie Brown was unhappy about all of the commercialization that was overtaking Christmas and distracting from the true meaning of the holiday. That was almost 50 years ago. You couldn’t shop on Sundays in those days, the internet was decades away, and Black Friday had more significance in religious terms than in retail. Even Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s must trusted companion, got into the act, decorating his doghouse with colorful lights. Charlie Brown’s younger sister, Sally, had an exhaustive list for Santa that she feared might be too complicated. She suggested that Santa just send money, preferably in 10’s and 20’s. Did I mention that Lucy wanted real estate for Christmas?

It’s no wonder that Charlie Brown was dismayed. Leave it to Lucy’s younger brother Linus to tell us what Christmas was all about.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them. And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Linus quoted scripture. On TV. He was right, that is what Christmas is all about. And to think that it took an animated cartoon character to bring it all together for us as a nation, reminding us of a message that has stood for more than two thousand years. They don’t make much television like that anymore. There is more of a loss than the frenzy of shopping madness that has enveloped the holiday and the political correctness that makes us feel more than a little out of order when we wish each other a Merry Christmas.

It has been forty five years since man first orbited the moon on Apollo 8. The astronauts that evening recited from the Book of Genesis. First, William Anders spoke. He addressed his comments “for all the people of the earth” as he began with, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Jim Lovell, who later commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13, described the second day when God separated the night from the day. Finally, Frank Borman described the creation of the dry land and the seas.

These were men of faith who were not afraid to share that faith with literally billions of people on the fragile planet that they, for the first time with human eyes, would watch rise above the lunar horizon. There is that iconic photo that revealed to us just how much we are dependent upon one another on this earth for its continued survival. Their very orbit around the moon convinced us that we had no other place in which to seek refuge and that we had better find a way to get along.

At a winter concert this year at a public school on Long Island, the Christmas carol “Silent Night” was edited to omit any reference to the Holy Infant or Christ the Savior. So far we have come from the the decade where Linus and Apollo 8 could reach out to us in scripture. In retrospect and with today’s emphasis of political correctness and the sense of absolute separation of all things spiritual from anything governmental, reading from the Christian bible from space seems quite a risky proposition. And so does Linus reading from the Book of Luke about the birth of the Savior.

Personally, I believe that a God, my God, created the heavens and the earth. It is not my desire to pressure anyone else into thinking likewise. I simply profess what I believe with respect for the beliefs of others. I am happy that Linus van Pelt reached out across our nation with a story of the meaning of Christmas without offending the nation much in the same way that the astronauts of Apollo 8 chose to reach out across the planet in describing the wonder creation to an expectant world.

So, on this Christmas Eve, I will close with the heartfelt and poignant words of Frank Borman emerging from the shadow of the moon in 1968: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God Bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”

Press on.

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On a Future State: Video Essay for June 29, 2013

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On a Future State:Radio Essay for June 29, 2013

When it comes to Republican politics, it is generally acknowledged that Massachusetts is a little lopsided. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a factor of 3:1. Historically speaking, Republicans have not fared well in elections held in Massachusetts. According to recent analysis, the Republicans sport a worse win-lose record over the last decade than the ‘62 Mets.

True conservatives within the Republican Party fare even worse. There is the occasional Governor, to be sure, but none in recent years have been beacons of conservative thought. The Constitutional Offices of Secretary of State, Auditor and Treasurer have long been in the hands of the Democrats. And, really, there is no such thing as a “conservative Democrat” in Massachusetts. By any national standard, most of our “conservative Republicans” could qualify as card carrying members of the other side in States such as Texas.

Still, whenever a solid Republican candidate is fielded they seem to capture about 43% of the vote. In the recent special election for US Senate, Gabriel Gomez actually received 45%. Was that because of a poor turnout or did the campaign actually reach a few more voters.
Gomez did better in some cities than did Scott Brown last time out. Brown got smoked almost 3:1 in Springfield, for instance; Gomez lost by a factor of 2:1. Progress?

For all of the hype about “The New Republican” Gomez claimed to be; the fact that he beseeched Governor Duval Patrick to be the choice for interim Senator; the fact that he repudiated Republican positions on Gun Control, immigration reform and abortion; and, the fact that Gomez was a first generation American of Columbian parents who did not speak English until 5 years old. The numbers tell us that it may have shaken loose only 2% more votes. Did I mention that he was a Navy SEAL?

The problem was less that Gomez was running on a resume that did not include political experience; many people pine for that. The problem was that he was running without political positions that would distinguish him from the opponent. This was an issueless campaign so why not vote for the guy who you count upon to be a hard core liberal who will deliver on every vote rather than a soft core liberal who might surprise you when predictability counts?

We are in the fifth year of the Great Recession. We have not even recovered the lost jobs from 2008-2009 no less created opportunity at the rate of 125,000 jobs per month necessary to sustain our economy. Our foreign policy is in shambles. The Middle East is on fire and the administration, with the complicity of some Republican Senators, pours fire on the situation by arming rebels who have no love of the United States. Vladimir Putin lectures us on world affairs and outmaneuvers us in the United Nations.

So what do we talk about in The Great Senate Special Election? Toilet bowls, absentee representation, reaching across the aisle to be more catholic than the Pope and arithmetic rather than math. We deserved a better campaign.

The problems with the Gomez campaign belie the fact that the major political parties are in cahoots. They exist to preserve the status quo. Discussing the size of government is like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. When the music stops, all that matters is that there is a narrative that the players can manipulate to their advantage so as to maintain their seat.

Is being a Member of Congress so satisfying that a person wishes to do it for 30 or 40 years? Or even more? I think that the satisfaction of the role ultimately becomes secondary to the power that it brings, to the egotistical nature of the incumbency. Humans have a preservation instinct and politicians have a highly refined sense of self preservation.

So where does that leave us poor constituents? What are we to do in a world where left and right collude to find a good ‘ol boy (and girl) network of back slapping colleagues who pontificate and bellow but who really don’t stand for anything? Anything except reelection, that is.
We know what the answer is. We have seen this coming for a long time. We have seen it at least since the advent of the Tea Party. Since the beginning of a group of people whose only ambition was to ask the one simple question, “Why?” And one more follow on, “Please explain this to me.” And what we have gotten from our efforts is to be vilified and investigated and instigated and infiltrated and demeaned and demonized.

The Democrats cannot have us and the Republicans will not have us. The time for a third party is upon us now. I fear it may well be too late.

Press on.

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On Memorial Day 2013

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On Memorial Day 2013

July 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that marked the cease-fire in Korea. It is often referred to as America’s “Forgotten War.” Indeed it was a conflict that marked a turning point in modern warfare. It was a war sanctioned by the United Nations and resulted in an outcome of something less than unconditional surrender of the enemy. Korea marked the first stalemate of the Cold War and it was not to be the last. Difficult to comprehend; it was a war of geopolitics and hegemony played out under the pall of an unthinkable third world war. Indeed, the threat of additional conflict in Korea conflict lingers to this very day.

How could Korea become The Forgotten War? How could America forget the 2 million casualties of that intensely brutal war that lasted a mere 37 months? How could America forget its 34,000 sons who died at the rate of nearly 1000 per week?

I am here to tell you the story one man from a small town in Massachusetts who went to Korea as a mere mortal and returned with a touch of immortality, never to be forgotten. He was an extremely bright and charming young man who left college early to enlist in the Marines in September 1950. He returned to Hopedale briefly that Christmas after completing basic training at Parris Island and deployed with the 1st Marine Division in Korea on January 28, 1951.

By now, the Communist Chinese Army, the Red Army, was fully engaged in the conflict and had been since their unexpected entry during the previous winter at Chosin Reservoir that nearly drove the Marines Corps into the sea. Now the 1st Marine Division were up against them in an area known as the Punchbowl, a dormant volcano lying in treacherous mountain terrain. The fighting was as fierce as it was at Chosin. Many new replacements were now engaged in seemingly constant battle against the enemy. The Marine Corps Gazette reported it this way:

Mountains were no novelty to Marines with Korean experience but they had seldom seen as chaotic a landscape as the one stretching ahead. Peaks of 3000 feet brooded over a wilderness of seemingly vertical ridges rising from dark and narrow valleys. Few roads were available and the frequent spring rains turned these native trails into bogs.

Battles took place daily against a fierce and entrenched foe. Day long battles were fought for territory gains of only several thousand yards. During the first 10 days of June 1951, the 1st Marine Division lost 67 men killed in action. Those loses were higher than any other month in the war; higher than during the famous Chosin Reservoir operation.

Among those dead was Corporal Richard J. Griffin. He received shrapnel wounds in battle on June 9, was evacuated and died aboard the hospital ship USS Haven on June 16, 1951. He had been a Marine for less than one year, in Korea for less than 5 months, and now he was coming home to be laid to his final rest.

Dick Griffin lived on Cemetery Street, just a few hundred yards from where we stand and his grave is in this cemetery where we honor him today along with so many others who fought and died in defense of our country. We in Hopedale have not forgotten our son from The Forgotten War.

In October of 1964, the Town of Hopedale dedicated a new 40 unit apartment complex for the elderly in his honor. Richard Griffin had been remembered once again for the lives that he had touched. A young attorney who knew Dick Griffin presided over the dedication. Perhaps these words capture the soul of the young man who died too young. He said:

Whoever coined the ancient proverb that ‘the good die young’ had such as Dick Griffin in mind. Dick had all the gentler qualities- loyalty, modesty, courtesy and a sense of the appropriate- to a degree unusual in a person so young and an unselfishness unique in a person of any age…He was truly one of those whom William James call ‘the once born.’

That young attorney was our own Judge Francis J. Larkin. Colonel Francis J. Larkin. We thank him for keeping alive the memory of his dear friend Dick Griffin and for keeping him closer to our own hearts. And we thank him for keeping alive this fine tradition of commemoration with our Memorial Day parade. He has shouldered this great burden for many years and is now ready to pass the torch to another generation of thankful Americans.

Finally, in November 1994, this monument was dedicated to all of the veterans of Hopedale, some 159 of whom served during the Korean War era. This stone behind me commemorates the memory of Richard J. Griffin, forever etched in granite, as the single Hopedale resident killed in action in Korea.

This member of “The Silent Generation” who fought in “The Forgotten War” shall never be forgotten in Hopedale. Corporal Richard J. Griffin, may you rest in eternal peace alongside and with your fellow comrades-in-arms. So long as this granite stone bears your name and Americans remain grateful of their heritage the memory of your life and service shall never fade.

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