Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Memories

Four score and seven years ago...

Every year with each new batch of students one question remains the same, "How can you stand teaching this stuff? Don't you think history is boring?" I fell in love with American history about fifteen years ago, on a rainy Memorial Day much like today. Because of the weather, the annual parade up the hill to the cemetery had become a gathering inside the village fire station. The day's program was the same, a local pastor chosen to speak a few words and offer a prayer, representatives from the VFW and American Legion, and the notes from the Fairless High School marching band were still bouncing off the cement block walls when I got up to speak these words.

 ...our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation,  conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

It was tradition that three local kids would be chosen to recite during the program, one of the pieces I no longer remember, an elementary school classmate read "In Flanders field the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row...", and I was chosen to do the Gettysburg Address. I still remember how my voice shook as I repeated the words of Lincoln.

Now 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.

Memorial Day began to remember the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. To remember those who gave their lives for the life of our nation. Lincoln never took lightly the lives of the men placed in his care, each death impacted him immensely. But he was always mindful of what would happen if America failed this test. 

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.

Instead of using the typewritten sheet I had been given, I had my eighth grade US History textbook with me, I read the introduction to the Address about the two-hour long oration those gathered in Gettysburg heard before Lincoln rose to give his brief, three-minute remarks. My voice continued to tremble, now not just with nerves but also with emotion, as I repeated his confident statement that Americans would never be able to forget the actions of those who fought for our freedom and the charge he gave to all of us to continue the work began by those in the military. 

 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 - 

Lincoln made it quite clear, the best way to honor those who have died for our nation is not to have parades or picnics, barbecues or trips to the beach, but instead to have that same commitment to liberty and freedom that they found worthy of their lives.

that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

No comments:

Post a Comment