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.