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

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On Memorial Day 2012: Speech at the Hopedale (MA) Parade

When soldiers fight, soldiers die. It is the unfortunate calculus of conflict. Evidence of that most extreme sacrifice is etched in the granite and marble of so many monuments in town squares and cemeteries in America.

Why do soldiers fight? A frequent response is, “to preserve our freedoms.” I think the answer lies within the document that is the foundation of our democracy. I believe
that answer is embodied within the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

To form a more perfect union. To secure the blessings of liberty not only for ourselves but for our posterity. We, in this audience today, are the posterity for whom our forefathers fought. The WWII veterans from Milford VFW Post 1544, fought for the posterity of my generation as their fathers fought for theirs. My generation has fought for the posterity of the next. And we send our sons and daughters into service so that they might fight for the posterity of the babies in this audience today and for the generations of Americans yet to be born. It is the way of America.

My son, John, stands beside me today in the uniform of his country, still in training and willing to follow in the footsteps of generations of family before him. I have served; my brother has served; my father has served. John will serve. This unbroken line of succession in service to country is a luxury.

Three of my mothers’ brothers served in WWII. Uncle Ben was a crew chief and ordnance man in the Army Air Corps. He returned from England with his new bride Margaret. I remember his witty sense of humor and Aunt Margaret’s British accent. They eventually settled in California where my cousins remain today.

The story of the other two brothers ended differently. I never got the chance to meet them but I have read their names etched in marble in American cemeteries in faraway lands.

The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Manila contains the name “Gunners Mate Third Class Anthony J. Lajkowicz, US Navy.” Uncle Tony was Lost at Sea after his cruiser USS Vincennes was ultimately torpedoed and sunk off Guadalcanal in the dark, fiery morning of August 10, 1943. The battles were fierce and the losses heavy. That area was to become known as Ironbottom Sound.

The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Margraten reads “Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Lajkowicz, US Army Air Corps.” Uncle Joe went Missing in Action after his B-24 Liberator was shot down while on a bombing mission over Poland on December 26, 1944. No one saw a parachute. No one found a body.

They left no spouse; they left no children. No aunt to pass on the stories; no cousins for me to play with in the backyard; no great grandchildren for my mother to bounce on her knee. We are left with etchings on a wall.

Recent events found my family at a happy occasion reunion. We got a chance to take a photo portrait that covered four generations starting with my mother. I will cherish that portrait forever but I can almost see the silhouettes of my missing uncles and the children that never came. This is the continuing cost of their sacrifice long ago.

President Herbert Hoover addressed the Republican Convention in June 1944. It was just a few short weeks after the allied invasion of Normandy that would eventually spell the end of war in Europe. He said, “Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.” The second part of the quotation is not as often heard. He went on to say, “And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.”

Building a more perfect union always takes courage. For civilians it sometimes involves great risk to their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. In the case of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines placed in harm’s way, it too often asks a far greater cost. And when their life is taken too soon, ours is forever affected, as well.
Today we honor the memory of those who gave their lives for no other reason than their nation called. The nation asked them to do their best to preserve the Union, to make a more perfect Union. To paraphrase a well known expression: All who served gave some. And some who served gave all.”

And so do us, survivors of the aftermath of war.

May they rest in eternal peace.

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The Tom Wesley and John Weston Review: May 28, 2011

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On Memorial Day: Radio Essay for May 28, 2012

Have you ever really seen wind? Not really. We feel it. We see its’ effects: tree leaves blowing; foam on an ocean whitecap; an umbrella turned inside out on a city street. Some winds give gentle relief to a warm summers’ day and some wind stokes the flames of a wild fire. We know that wind is a consequence of weather. We can’t see it but we know it’s there.

Have you ever really seen freedom? Not really. Like wind, we feel it. We see its’ effects. We participate in peaceful gatherings; we pursue our happiness with friends of our choice; we live life to the beat of our own personal drummer. Freedom is a consequence of national character. We can’t really see it but we know its’ there.

We have faith in the weather and we have faith in freedom. But there is a very real difference. Weather simply happens. We batten down the hatches and wait for the consequences. We take it for granted.

Not so for freedom. Freedom is a demanding mistress. Freedom must be nurtured and this freedom nurturing is very complicated. Freedom is not achieved as much as it is compiled. Its’ durability comes from generation after generation of patriots who were willing to take a stand.

Every generation of Americans has had to answer the question that the siren of freedom asked of them: are you willing to shoulder the mantle and defend the foundation of freedom that our forbearers laid for us? At the dawn of our existence, are you willing to take up arms at daybreak on the Lexington Green against a superior force of Red Coats; as a member of a newly founded country, are you willing to take to sea to face the Barbary Pirates thousands of miles from home along the shores of Tripoli; four score and seven years after the founding of this most imaginative country, are you willing to preserve the Union at Little Round Top in Gettysburg; as the industrial revolution engages, are you willing to enter the trenches at Verdun; as fascism spread across the world are you willing to wade ashore in the face of withering fire at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal; in the wake of an unsteady peace among giants, are you willing to advance up Pork Chop Hill; in the shadow of the Cold War, are you willing to pilot your helicopter at the nap of the earth in the Central Highlands of Vietnam; in the age of religious extremism, are you willing to fight house-to-house in Fallujah to root out terrorists? Most of our veterans did not sign on in the face of certain danger but did so because some things in our lives are worth defending. It is that simple.

These questions are by no means fair. No one knows with any certainty how they will react in crisis. When the stakes are high enough we fight for things we believe are worth defending. As parents, we instinctively defend our children. As humans, we instinctively defend ourselves. As soldiers charged with the defense of freedom, we fight alongside each other as our nation dictates.

If you have ever raised your hand to serve and defend this country, I salute you and honor your service to this marvelous experiment of America. She has proven herself to be worth fighting for. Without that commitment to protect and defend our way of life, the circumstances would for us, and our world, be different, indeed.

The noble profession of arms is a calling to a selective slice of our countrymen. Upon their shoulders do we place the terrible burden of the defense of this great nation and the defense of freedom for ourselves and our posterity. Time after time, and generation after generation, our youth has borne the horrible cost of freedom in its defense against the onslaught of tyranny. And they have never wavered in their commitment. They have never failed to deliver.

So what is required of us? It is more, I think, than simply placing a flag on the graves of the brave. It is more, I think, than giving inspirational speeches every Memorial Day. If they, who have given their last full measure of devotion, have willingly defended freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion is it not up to us to express ourselves as our founders intended and as our sons and daughters have defended?

In short, we must work hard to become the best citizens we can be; to accept and appreciate the gifts of those past generations of Americans who have borne every burden on our behalf. We must never take life and the many choices and opportunities it brings for granted.

Honor their commitment. Get involved in civics. Vote. Write. Speak. Assemble. Protest. Celebrate. Pray. Pursue happiness while ensuring it for our children’s children by teaching it through our actions. Children listen. Children watch. Children pattern behaviors. And so do adults.

Become worthy of the sacrifices of the many millions of Americans who have worn the uniform of their country: Some to fight; some to wait; but all to serve.
May God bless each and every one of them. And may God bless us all in this greatest country that has taught the world what freedom means; this country that knows the dear price of freedom and its burdens. Long may our flag wave over a free and freedom loving land.

Press on.

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