Memorial Day 2020

The following is a speech prepared for the Oxford American Legion's 2020 memorial service at Riverside, which was to be read by Major General (Ret.) Peter Lennon.


After serving around the world, my wife Elaine and I are delighted to be home in Chenango County, even if we are somewhat quarantined, to reflect on this very special day.
Today, as it has for over 150 years, America remembers and recognizes those service members who've given up their lives: Serving America and the "American Ideal"; sacrificing for their teammates, honoring something bigger than themselves. This year, the Memorial Day remembrance and recognition comes without parades, without big speeches, without community picnics, and without ballgames: but that doesn't make it any less significant or any less meaningful.
While our "future normal" may never be exactly the America we remember, our current restrictions won't last forever either  We are resilient and I'm confident that tomorrow's America will still be grounded in the beliefs, the spirit, the ingenuity, the goodness, and the heroics of the American people. Lately, we have been honoring a new group of heroes: Americans who, up until recently, were considered just ordinary folks. I want to thank our medical professionals, first responders, service providers, and those in so many other professions. But adding a new group to the ranks of "hero" doesn't mean we should forget the character or actions of our traditional heroes:
There isn't a limit to the number of heroes any one country can claim, and America has been blessed with an abundance of them. So today, I'd like to remind everyone that our military has never stopped being and never will stop being heroic.
I used to ask my Soldiers a simple question, the type of question you might get from your middle school English teacher: "What's the punctuation mark at the end of the first verse of the National Anthem: The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?" The answer is it's a question mark— You see, during the War of 1812, when Francis Scott Key wrote those words, he was on board a ship looking across the Baltimore Harbor onto Ft. McHenry where the Americans forces had been pounded throughout the night by British artillery shells and rockets. At "Dawn's Early Light", he truly didn't know if the Americans had weathered the barrage; He didn't know if the American flag was still waving: He didn't know if the American ideal had survived I believe that no matter what your politics, as long as we have proud patriots and American heroes in our midst, our flag will continue to wave over the land we love for a long, long time.

Today, with all the flags on display, I want to share another thought about "Old Glory". For nearly 250 years, our flag has served as a rallying point for service members on the battlefield. It's brought Americans together; particularly in times of pride and in times of uncertainty and anxiety. Think about the number of flags you saw flying in the week after September 11th. That flag is a symbol of American unity- I urge you to fly it proudly in these times of uncertainty and in the days to come. But that beautiful piece of cloth is only a symbol- It's not who we are.
We, you and I, are the essence of America; the most thoughtfully-constructed, most decent, and most just social experiment in the history of mankind. Let us strive to model that unity, that decency, and that justice. I love a quote I read from an essay by a high school senior at Unadilla Valley Central School: She simply wrote: "The left wing and the right wing are all part of the same bird". She said she heard that from her grandfather. Her grandfather's a pretty smart man and I thank him for sharing that wisdom with today's generation. When we service-members raise our right hands, we pledge ourselves and our very lives in support of and in the defense of a NOT person, or political party, but to the American Constitution. That constitution is the basis for the America I've been talking about and I believe the America that young lady and her grandfather were talking about. In taking that oath, we service members also become part of something bigger than ourselves-the military "family". The concept of a "military family" is pretty important because it reinforces the fact that the our military is made up of human beings.
While our American military has the best equipment and most advanced technology in the world, the success of a military operation, whether it be in the mountains of Afghanistan or in a makeshift hospital in New York City, is dependent upon the ingenuity, training, and at times, the bravery of those human beings. As service members, that human element and that sense of family are ingrained in our DNA: And it's that sense of the human factor that causes a service member to take that "next step" on behalf of his or her teammates. Today, we honor those whose next steps proved fatal- tragically cutting short their promising young lives. When a service member dies, their military family grieves. Their military team pays proper tribute. Their military family doesn't forget: Today, I ask you not to forget either. Our debt to the fallen can never be repaid. Even if we could have a parade and rifle salute, it wouldn't have brought them back. The best we can do is Reflect, Mourn their Loss, and Thank and Care for their Families, I also ask that you think about and pray for our military heroes of today; young men and women who are honoring that same oath to support and defend our country and our way of life.
Today, we still have hundreds of thousands of America's best and brightest serving in over 140 countries around the globe, many in harm's way every day. Think of them when you raise your flag in the morning, when you take in down at night: Their day and their risk doesn't stop with the sunset. Think of them when you bring your flag in during bad weather: They're probably still out in it, for our sake. This Memorial Day, I ask that you take a moment to honor our fallen military heroes for their character, their commitment. Reflect on their actions; actions taken by human beings, from places like Chenango County. For it was their human actions that have secured our ability to live freely in America- the place they called and we call home. May God Bless these heroes- hold them close today and every day. May God watch over our heroes serving today: And may God continue to Bless our amazing United States of America.

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