Remembrance Day

by Derrick G. Jeter

“There is a link death can never sever, / Love and memories last forever.” [1]

 

In honor of those who have fallen to preserve liberty in this great land of ours, here are words more eloquent and profound than I could ever hope to write.

 

None of these [heroes] allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger. No, holding that vengeance upon their enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk, to make sure of their vengeance and to let their wishes wait; and while committing to hope the uncertainty of final success, in the business before them they thought fit to act boldly and trust themselves. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to living submitting, they fled only from dishonor, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, left behind them not their fear, but their glory. [2]

 

The great event in the history of the continent, which we are now met here to commemorate, that prodigy of modern times, at once the wonder and the blessing of the world, is the American Revolution. In a day of extraordinary prosperity and happiness, of high national honor, distinction, and power, we are brought together, in this place, by our love of country, by our admiration of exalted character, by our gratitude for signal services and patriotic devotion. . . . And let the sacred obligations which have devolved on this generation, and on us, sink deep into our hearts. Those who established our liberty and our government are daily dropping from among us. The great trust now descends to new hands. Let us apply ourselves to that which is presented to us, as our appropriate objects. We can win no laurels in a war for independence. Earlier and worthier hands have gathered them all. . . . But there remains to us a great duty of defense and preservation; and there is opened to us, also a noble pursuit, to which the spirit of the times strongly invites us. Our proper business is improvement. Let our age be the age of improvement. In a day of peace, let us advance the arts of peace and the works of peace. Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered. . . . Let our conceptions be enlarged to the circles of our duties. Let us extend our ideas over the whole of the vast field in which we are called to act. Let our object be, our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country. And, by the blessing of God, may that country itself become a vast and splendid monument, not of oppression and terror, but of Wisdom, of Peace, and of Liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration forever! [3]

 

We are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. it is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. [4]

 

On this Memorial Day let’s pause just a moment and thank God for those who gave their last full measure of devotion so we might live in freedom.

 

 

[1] Anonymous, quoted in Jill Werman Harris, ed., Remembrances and Celebrations: A Book of Eulogies, Elegies, Letters, and Epitaphs (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 284.

[2] Thucydides, “Funeral Oration of Pericles,” in The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, trans. Richard Crawley, ed. Robert B. Strassler, 2.42.4 (New York: Touchstone, 1998), 115.

[3] Daniel Webster, “The Bunker Hill Monument,” in The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster (Washington, D.C.: Beard Books, 2001), 125, 135

[4] Abraham Lincoln, “Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg,” in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, volume 7, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 23.

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