Tag Archives: liberty

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 Loss of Innocence Again: Essay for April 20, 2013

The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.

Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.

I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.

Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.

The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.

That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.

So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.

It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.

So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.

Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.

We ARE Boston Strong.

Press on.

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On Ben Franklin in Paris: Video Essay for July 4, 2012

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On Turning Points: Essay for June 10, 2012

Great moments in history are most often noted in retrospect. We often do not see the significance of any one action, however large, in its proper perspective without the benefit of time. In politics a day can be can be can lifetime, a week an eternity. What a week it has been. The question I pose is this: Has the week of June 4th been the Waterloo for President Obama and his chances for reelection in November?

I know it is early and so much more can happen but it appears as though the wheels are coming off the wagon for the President. Here are just a few of the leading indicators of despair for him.

First and foremost, Scott Walker not only survived the recall election in Wisconsin, he thrived. It is a clear repudiation of organized public sector labor union thuggery. It also exposed a rift between the private and public sector union rank and file. It is quite a luxury that the public sector unions view municipal budgets as blank checks for their incessant demands while their brothers in the private sector are dependent upon the continued vibrancy of the private companies for whom they work.

But wait, there’s more. Bill Clinton, the Godfather of the Democrats, praised Mitt Romney for his tenure at Bain Capital. He said he did a great job. Of course he had to amend his statements later on but the horse was out of the barn. The jury shall disregard the remarks, as they say. Besides, he later went on to say that median income was down since his administration, an off-handed reminder that the Bush-era tax cuts should remain in effect lest we crush the 98%. The Obama big-bad-businessman reelection narrative was destroyed.

Next, Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, indicated that the Bush-era tax cuts should stay in place lest the economy fall off a cliff, raising the unemployment rate, curtailing consumer spending and bringing on another recession. There goes the Presidents’ “tax the rich” narrative.

Then the employment figures of May were released. A mere 69,000 people got work, tens of thousands more stopped looking for work, and the previous two months of employment statistics, already poor, were revised downward. That shoots the Forward narrative right in the foot.

Finally, reports surfaced in a new book that David Axelrod, campaign strategist to the President, got into fisticuffs with Attorney General Eric Holder over politicization of the Justice Department. Maybe that actually reinforces the “Team of Rivals” concept for the President’s cabinet.
And there is so much more. Did anyone mention that the Supreme Court decision on the Constitutionality of Obamacare should be out before the end of the month? A repudiation of the mandate would reinforce the Mitt Romney narrative that Obama fiddled with his pet project of dubious value while the economy was ignored.

Add to this some polling from Rasmussen that indicates a record number of Americans favor one-party rule in Washington and you have enough elements of a turning point week in the “Run for the White House” that favors the challenger, Mitt Romney. How unlikely did this seem only 2 months ago while the Republican primaries were in full swing and the candidates were talking trash about each other. Quick, name me five other candidates for the nomination. Bet you it took a few seconds. Now, there are reports that liberals will refrain from grassroots support and donating money. They may even stay away from the polls in November. Imagine that.

The battle lines are drawn very clearly. President Obama is pleasing nobody these days. It is a self-inflicted wound for whom he can only blame himself. People on both sides of the aisle are disappointed. The further from the center one gets, right or left, the more the disappointment grows. To the Right, Obama is too much a Marxist-Leninist and should be removed from office because he is not what he purported to be. To the Left, Obama is too little of a Marxist-Leninist and should be removed from office because he is not what he purported to be. It makes you want to scratch your head but I would be pleased with the outcome following each extreme.

In July 1863, General Meade and the Union Army of the Potomac defeated General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Today it is clearly perceived as the turning point of the Civil War. It was not as clear at the time. The war continued for nearly two more years at great loss of American treasure. As Kierkegaard once said, “Life must be lived forwards; but it can only be understood backwards.”
In a real sense, the turning point that may have just occurred is larger than the contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney itself. Evidence is coming in that suggests that so much more is at stake than electoral victory. At stake is world leadership in the 21st century. Are the best days for America behind her or still yet to come? We will find out in November.

Press on.

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Memorial Day Parade Comments, Hopedale, MA: May 28, 2012

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On Christening and Commissioning: Essay for May 19, 2012

Spring is that time of year for transitions and my experience this weekend is turning out to be a very reflective one.

First stop is Newport, Rhode Island, for the commissioning ceremony for the son of a dear Navy shipmate of mine. Our children grew up together and we have watched yet another major life transition unfold before our eyes as he graduated from his Officer course and proceeded to his duty station in San Diego as a physician. The scene was a bit reminiscent of the movie, “Officer and a Gentleman” except this course was designed for the specialized corps of officers, in this case, the Medical Corps. They were Golf Company of Officer Development Course Class 12060. Ho-Hah!

We attended the festivities in uniform, probably feeling a bit more dapper than we actually looked when compared to the fresh, young faces of the 64 men and women who took their orders to begin or continue a naval career. It was a true passing of the torch. My shipmate, Donald, retired as a Navy Captain a number of years ago. Together, we could no longer complete the obstacle course without counting upon the Medical Corps to revive us.

This most important function, the defense of our country, has been transferred to yet another generation of Americans who willingly raised their collective hands to affirm the oath they made to uphold a commitment not to a personage, such as a king, but to a concept drafted by men who had experienced the yoke of servitude to potentates. They swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” They also swore that they took this oath “freely without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”

If you do the math and add up all the members of our Armed Forces, active duty and reserve and National Guard, you will find that they represent less than 1% of Americans. I submit to you that the rest of America is the 99%. The Occupy movement is measuring the wrong thing. The Occupiers are measuring wealth as an indicator of achievement and success that they submit is not available to the majority. Wrong. If they wish to measure true achievement and success, selfless service, they should visit Naval Station Newport, not Wall Street. They are looking in the wrong places because they know no better. They do not understand now, nor will they ever understand, that service to our fellow man is how we achieve on this earth.

Our character is not measured by the amount of wealth we earn as much as it is by the amount of respect we earn from people whom we admire and are worthy of admiration.

The words of Chief Petty Officer Edgar Ruiz, the enlisted man most responsible for shaping a class of newly minted Ensigns, were quite memorable. “When I wake up in the morning I ask a simple question, ‘What can I do for the Navy today?’”

This group of young medical officers may not pick up arms against the enemies we fight but they will be the ones that reattach the pieces. They will be the ones that are charged to heal the scars of war: many obvious to the naked eye and many more darkly hid deep within the souls of the warrior. The Book of John instructs us: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Next stop this weekend is Long Island, NY, where I will attend the christening of my grand niece, Kayla. She is just a baby and relies upon others for every protection: first from her Mother and Father; from family and friends; and then strangers. Some of those strangers who shall protect her have just passed through Golf Company, ODC Class 12060.

More than a century ago, Leo Tolstoy wrote,”Where love is, there God is.”

Taken together, our Armed Forces, including these Navy doctors, find themselves in a most perfect position to do God’s work here on earth. That makes them the 1 percent. There is no hourly wage for that.

Press on.

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On Aging Politicians: Essay for May 19, 2012

The year 1976 is memorable for many things: the Bi-centennial celebration brought Op-Sail to New York Harbor; “Rocky,” the first “Rocky,” was the top movie; the Dow-Jones Index was at 1000; Mao Tse Tung had died and Richard Lugar was elected to the US Senate for the first time at the age of 44.
Richard Lugar, a Navy veteran and Eagle Scout, rose to prominence in Indianapolis politics, compiled what seems to be an impressive record and eventually grew his tenure in the US Senate. He was never seriously challenged until he lost in the Republican primary this past week by a landslide. Richard Lugar will leave the Senate chamber after this session ends after 36 years of service. He is 80 years old.

By any measure, his career is a distinguished one. He was a mover and shaker on the weighty issues of national security and nuclear proliferation. His colleagues on both sides of the aisle have paid him tremendous platitudes after learning of his defeat. Senator Susan Collins said that she cannot imagine the US Senate without him. Perhaps that is because she was only 23 years old when Mr. Lugar was elected. Senator John Kerry called it a “tragedy.” Has he not read “King Lear?” Peggy Noonan saw this coming and wrote an impassioned column pleading to spare Richard Lugar and grant him one more term because “the entire American government needs grownups.”

Well, Mr. Lugar was dealt a defeat at the hands of tea party backed candidate Richard Mourdock. I do not know much about his politics but I were a Hoosier I could imagine myself wondering if any individual who has been in service for 36 years could be anything but a career politician. These are bad times to have that label appended to anyone who holds office. Add a 6 year term on top of his 80 years and, well, you do the math.

These times are changing for both parties. Simply attaching an “R” next to your name does not automatically grant immunity from scrutiny, no matter how precarious the balance in the Senate may be. Extreme longevity disrupts the natural progression of candidates who otherwise seek other career paths. So many of us desire a real return to citizen legislators who are committed to service, yes, but not a career in office. A new Rasmussen poll indicates that 68% of Americans would replace the entire Congress if they could do so. The time for Richard Lugar to pass the reigns was long overdue. No matter what his accomplishments, the continued vitality of our government demands turnover more frequently than that of the old Soviet Politburo. I will not cry for him but I do applaud and honor his service to America.

And that brings me to another aging politician, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I would not normally call attention to her age and appearance except for the fact that she herself did so this week. Secretary Clinton let her hair down, quite literally, in South America. Her long locks cascaded to her shoulders; she appeared without make-up to cover up the age spots or smooth the crow’s feet; her glasses were the dark, thick rimmed kind normally reserved for reading in bed; and her attitude screamed, “I’m tired of talking about age and appearance.” Said Hillary, “You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.” Amen to that.

Now here is a lady with a career that can rightly be described as distinguished. One can certainly argue about pedigree and positions and choose to vehemently disagree on issue with her politics. What cannot be denied is that Hillary Clinton has not followed the traditional career path of one in such a position of power. She has been First Lady, US Senator, Presidential front-runner, and Secretary of State. She has not strung together more than two consecutive gigs in politics. That much I like.

There has been a lot of speculation about her upcoming resignation as Secretary of State and the potential of her running for President in 2016. Her timing may be quite ripe. Whether President Obama is done in 2012 or 2016, the Democrats will need a candidate. Many say why not her? I say, quit while you are ahead. At age 68 she may not physically be too old to run but she should take her clue from Richard Lugar and get while the getting is good.
I look forward to advising the same thing for the Senior Senator from Massachusetts, now in his 28th year in the Senate, when his term expires in 2014. Or he could step down sooner. Aren’t you just itching for another Senatorial special election?

Press on.

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