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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 Pessimism: Essay for June 26, 2012

“Optimism is a force multiplier.” So said General Colin Powell long before he was involved in politics. It was the mantra he used to lead those under his command. From The Little Engine That Could to the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, optimism bores through an obstacle like a candle burns through the darkness.

The converse of that statement is equally true. Pessimism is a force diminisher. The real problem with pessimism is that it is virally contagious. It spreads like a pandemic without antidote. Its’ effects are deleterious. Pessimism convinces us that darkness is okay because our eyes will adjust over time especially if the daylight is first overcome by dusk.

It reminds me of the instructions of how to boil a frog: start with cool water and turn up the heat until the deed is done. No intelligent frog would long stay in boiling water but lull them into a false sense of security and they will stew in their own juices and thank you for the effort.

A recently released Rasmussen poll said that only 37 percent of Americans think that the best days for America lie ahead. Some 45 percent think that our best days are indeed behind us. I don’t know when those numbers were reversed. As far back as 2006 with America deeply involved in a bloody war in Iraq and a holding action in Afghanistan and with political partisanship at full throttle, the numbers were fairly similar. Pessimism abounds.

Winning streaks are hard to maintain. They are noble and enduring. Losing streaks take little effort at all to maintain. They are ignoble and best forgotten except in trivia contests. Longest batting streak in baseball? Fifty six games by Lou Gehrig. Longest losing streak for a pitcher? Twenty seven games by Anthony Young. They made movies about Hall-of-Famer Lou Gehrig. What about Anthony Young? He coaches youth baseball.

Is this to be the way of America? Are we destined to become the youth coach of the burgeoning democracies of the world? Or are we metaphorically poised to begin our fifty seven game hitting streak? I think it is a mental choice. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”

The world is an unstable and unpredictable place. It demands a steady hand on the tiller and America is the only country that can provide the leadership that the stability of the world demands. We must be willing to offer that leadership. Allowing warlords and Lesser Developed Countries to dictate the terms of their participation in the family of nations to the largest single force for good in the history of this planet is ludicrous. The outcome will be as certain as it was in Lord of the Flies.

The world needs adult supervision and that supervision must come from the United States. That leaves us with a very real problem. Who among us in this great country is up to the task of leadership? And I mean bold leadership.

The world is full of follower countries waiting for the resurgence of a renewed and focused United States. And Americans are waiting for the same leadership in our own country. We’ve heard the platitudes and we reject them not so much out of incredulity as out of desperation. The words are threadbare and shopworn.

The United States has the largest and most resilient economy in the world but who is filling the pipeline of talent to take over the seats of the aging demographic that is poised to retire? Who seriously thinks that US businesses can successfully repatriate their manufacturing if the workforce is barren of the skills necessary to complete? Our next President must do, not talk.

The United States has the largest and most competent military force in the world but does anyone think we can continue to put our forces in harm’s way to support illegitimate and unjust countries with values incompatible with our own world view? Who thinks we can continue to rotate our best and most precious human assets into combat stalemates without sacrificing the core of our collective soul? Our next President must do, not talk.

The United States has provided a safety net to the neediest among us but how long can this net endure if it becomes a hammock for those who put personal gain at odds against the collective good? Who among us thinks we can pass along the decisions we are too cowardly to make to our children and grandchildren? Our next President must do, not talk.

Certainly our President has not had enough time to bring about change that this nation so desperately needs. That is because he is lost in the wilderness and a worn footpath looks like a superhighway. He is presiding over a losing streak of epic proportions because he has no vision of what American can be and must become.

This is not the fault of the previous administration. It is the fault of President Barack Obama. This President has talked, not done. We are ready for the leader who will light the candle in the darkness.

Yogi said it was 90 percent mental and 50 percent physical. It is hard to argue with that.

Press on.

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On Vegas, Revelations and Parades: Video Essay for March 10, 2012

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On Vegas Illusions, Revelations and Parades: Essay for March 10, 2012

It is said, “Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But I don’t like to follow the rules. I spent some time in Las Vegas recently and observed a lot of interesting things that I’d like to share.

First of all, nothing about Las Vegas is real. That is what my taxi driver said and it is true. The hotels are themed from exotic places around the world: Paris; New York; Rome; Venice. Neither are the restaurants native. They are transplants of famous eateries from those same cities. Fabulous celebrity chefs have cut and pasted their originals in luxury hotels: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay and Mario Batali. It would seem that if you can make it on The Food Network you can make it in Las Vegas.

When viewed through the lens of Las Vegas, it was difficult to discern that there exists a poor economy. In fact, lack of discernment was prevalent on many levels. I saw many different types of people: gamblers, of course; revelers of all sorts; bachelor parties; bachelorette parties; a few weddings. There were some children but not many. The city hardly slows down as the staged entertainment merely ebbs as the evening turns into the wee hours.

Then there is the other side of the city, the absolute beauty of natural surroundings that begged to be hiked and climbed and scaled. A starker and more constantly changing landscape I cannot remember. Ever the outdoorsman, I brought my hiking gear with me and set out on several treks. I was taken by the unforgiving terrain; the fickle weather; the swings in temperature; the arid ground; the lack of life giving water. It reminded me of the landscapes I’ve seen flying over Afghanistan or through newsreels more up close and personal.

It brought to mind the ground that our troops trod upon every day. The burden they carry on their backs is made heavier by the thin air at altitude. The dryness in the back of their throats is made more so by the thirsty wind. Heaving and hauling through landscapes better suited to mountain goats and indigenous peoples, the sweat momentarily clings to the brow then quickly evaporates. Water brings only temporary satisfaction. The ordinary American citizen cannot live the experience our troops face every day.

I left the hillsides for the day and headed off to one of those famous Las Vegas buffets to fill the pit in my belly. Cuisines from around the world lined the walls: Asian, Italian and Barbeque. That is when it struck me. There was something I had not seen in Vegas; something not yet imported. I had not seen any soldiers in uniform. Perhaps there were some in the crowds but they were not obvious.

Las Vegas has not yet created any warzone fantasy world for vacationers to visit. If they did, it might resemble the hillsides in Red Rock Canyon where I climbed. They would have to recreate the dust, the dry, the rocky and the extremes of temperature to capture even a moment of what it must be like for our troops in Afghanistan. And even if they could, who would be enticed to participate? After all, it is not nearly as much fun as watching make believe swashbuckling pirates in front of the Treasure Island Casino.

Perhaps we can settle on something a little more traditional. How about a parade?

The length of the war in Iraq is second in duration to the war in Afghanistan. They are twice as long as our World Wars. Millions of Americans have served time in theatre. Together, the wars have taken the lives of almost 6500 of our youth. More than 14,000 have been wounded. The time has come to recognize the many sacrifices that these soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have made in order to protect our way of life. They have done what we have asked of them and then some. They deserve not only a public display of our affection and admiration, they deserve a break. They deserve to come home to a job.

It is truly ironic that we laid our finest young Americans upon the alter of sacrifice so that the wretched of the most uncivil of societies may endure. Our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were not liberating Paris from the Nazis; they were tracking down the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists and sympathizers who wrought havoc upon our nation and the civilized world. And they did so amid conditions that few of us can imagine. They repay us with resentment.

Spring is nearly upon us. The season of parades draws neigh. It is time for a homecoming and a celebration. Bring on the music and the bands, I say. And bring on the job training that will permit these talented and motivated veterans to reenter the workforce with the dignity they so ardently deserve.
What happened in Vegas should stay in Vegas to remain forever forgotten; what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan should never be forgotten.

Press on.

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