Memorial Day in Mountain View Cemetery

News at Home

Vaughn Davis Bornet received his PhD from Stanford in 1951. He gave this speech at Mountain View Cemetery in Ashland, OR, on Memorial Day 2011.

We are met in the beautiful open air of Ashland, Oregon on Memorial Day, 2011.  We are gathered for a variety of reasons, but it is safe to say that every person here feels a sense of obligation.

It is our duty, every one of us, to remember all who braved danger while wearing the uniform of the armed forces of our Nation.  Especially, we honor those who gave their lives when serving our Country, the missing, and all who were wounded.

We meet in an atmosphere of patriotism.  We have heard stirring music, composed and beautifully executed to arouse feelings we may have temporarily filed away.  We look about and we see Boy Scouts in uniform.  We gaze on them with pride.  There are individuals who wear veterans’ service caps indicating they once served in the military.  They make it a responsibility to help their fellow citizens remember some obligations we have in common.  Among those I immediately recognize are the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans, but there are others.  Some among us served in Korea.

Before me is an audience made up of individuals we are likely to know, others who are known to some, and visitors we are pleased—no, delighted to welcome.  Half an hour from now the full text of this address will be transmitted worldwide on George Mason University’s History News Network, a truly astonishing event.

Your speaker asks that all of you now join me in reflections and ideas that seem essential at this vitally important time.

The very idea of Memorial Day is to commemorate the fallen, somewhat as people did a few years after the close of the American Civil War.  That terrible event was a very long time ago, so that those who fell and those who survived are largely forgotten. Every citizen has an obligation to remember, however, for that conflict featured unimaginable battles that saved the Union and freed the slave.  In passing, I note that in some places in this Country there is commemoration of the beginning of that costly war in 1861.  Better, I say, to wait four years and celebrate its final ending at last in 1865.  (We may remember Pearl Harbor, but we celebrated the return of our warriors from the far Pacific in 1945.)

Many of us have been in this place on previous Memorial Days.  When I first spoke here on May 30, 1963, my emphasis was largely on World War I, which was then 45 years behind us.  The passing of World War I veterans was still commonplace and often noted.  My own father was in his forties during the war.   His role was to work in Washington and Philadelphia to help engineer the North Sea minefield that contained German submarines.  A personal note:  forgive me for saying that the telegram advising my joyful father of my birth in downtown Philadelphia arrived at the Navy Department on October 10, 1917.  In that way did family life continue while war took its toll.

I spoke in this beautiful spot again in 1971, but the situation by then was sadly different.  My speech focused on those who had died in Southeast Asia, and my title was:  “In Memoriam to the Vietnam Veteran.”  I began that address by speaking of the fallen of World War II, and I was able to say that we all remember those who died in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, in Europe and in Asia.

As one who remembers personally the sacrifices the American public made during World War II, I have to say that our leaders should always feel that they can call on their Countrymen to make wartime sacrifices.  Adults among us can remember yesterday’s rationing with its food, tire, and gasoline stamps.  We should remember the War Bonds that helped pay for a great war while still waging it.  There is one thing we can do, and that is to is guarantee preparation of better facilities to care for the wounded in body, mind, and spirit—perhaps at the local domiciliary.

It has come to my attention that we in this nation are losing World War II veterans at the rate of over a thousand a day.  The memorial we built in our capitol to remember the war was finished only in 2005.  There is a very enthusiastic campaign to fly at least some of the war’s veterans back to see our war memorials in Washington before it is too late.

Since I put in nearly five years of active duty in that war, I have much to remember.  There were very early losses of close friends.  There were deaths from my own fraternity—my catcher when I pitched; the editor of the Emory Wheel newspaper; the dear son of the professor who mentored we Sigma Chis.  During Vietnam here in Ashland I recall the very early loss of the son of a mathematics professor at our College, and in the very recent past a fine young man from Phoenix who died in remote Afghanistan. 

One could continue with names and details about our fallen (thinking to bring additional honor), but to do that is likely to be too much for our emotions.  Best that we grieve somewhat in the abstract, perhaps, for our individual losses are too monumental for public comment.  Still, we in Ashland will miss command sergeant major (USA) Ray Childers of our 186th Regiment, Oregon National Guard, for after long service in the Pacific in World War II he served postwar in the Ashland area for thirty-five years.  He was my personal friend.

It should make no difference in our mourning if those who are wounded or die were participating in a “popular” war.  Nor should unrest here at home ever be allowed to change our attitude toward veterans.  In both cases our Country’s interests are involved.  All service performed in uniform is official and valuable.  Sacrifice in war is painful and essentially universal.  

In any case, it is desirable that we go out of our way to remember the losses of that very divisive Vietnam War.  I said in a Memorial Day speech over forty years ago, “We should begin calling on our leaders (it is by no means too soon) for suitable memorials to those who died in Vietnam.  These memorials should be in Washington, in state capitols, and in our cities and towns.  Is there shock or surprise at this call for an expression of national gratitude?”  (Speaking Up for America, p. 98).

It is now 2011, and the Vietnam Memorial has been built.  The ceremonies have been held, and it is much noticed.  Many books have been written that treat that war (including two of mine).  Looking back, we try to place in perspective the failed effort to create a free country in South Vietnam.  One thing we notice as we look about:  the communist evil then expanding worldwide seems less of a menace today.  We have made progress.

In our day there was a ruthless dictator in Iraq.  We thought it likely that he had the ability to develop weapons of mass destruction that might one day bring catastrophe to the buildings where we conduct self-government and the leaders in them.  We took action that some have questioned.  As our troops gradually leave Baghdad, we await history’s verdict.

More recently, our focus has been on a notorious stateless terrorist leader.  We were encouraged when—regardless of the risks—he was put out of his hateful business.  His preoccupation in life, by the way, was essentially the bombing and killing of total strangers of any age—men, women, and children he did not know anything at all about.  We find it hard to mourn the death of such an alien to all that the World considers good.

We now know, in the light of the two Iraq wars, the continuing war in Afghanistan, and unrest boiling in the Middle East that there is continuity in our half century of sturdy effort with our armed forces to improve the lot of peoples we do not know.

Very recently, in distant Libya, our armed forces were used briefly in the campaign to try to bring an end to genocide.  We sense that additional participation of our armed forces is possible.  This latest of our war efforts, with leadership from NATO, continues even as I speak.  The future of what is happening is uncertain, but we on the sidelines try to adapt.

Overall, we pay total tribute on this Memorial Day to all who represent us and act in our behalf in places hard to find on a map.  We think of them daily as we learn what they have achieved and consider what we hope will be accomplished.  Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard men and women, all in uniform, are fighting tribesmen, fanatics, zealots, and all who aim weapons at us.  They fight and they die regardless of whether their support on the home front burns brightly or resembles unthinking indifference.

It is not easy to understand why our soldiers and sailors fight day after day when their public back home avoids using the word war.  Yet this situation has plenty of precedent.  Regardless,we do need to demonstrate that our support lies behind conflict that seems never-ending.  More than usual, we are going to have to study the many issues involved in this Continuous War.  Those helicopters and rapid fire weapons are there to make us safe at home from horrendous attack—somewhat as happened on 9/11.

I repeat:  each of us must study the facts and the issues!  An ignorant electorate will not serve us well!  Our leaders should be leading a well-informed electorate, one with whom they can communicate difficult truths at a sophisticated level.  We need to develop intelligent opinions on whether to expand or contract   the fighting.

We in the public continually wonder.  We seek answers.  When are we to bring the troops back?  When are we to change basic national policies in ways that are fundamental?  Will all coming use of our armed forces be worthwhile?  Are we doing the best we can?  These are questions that ought to be asked.  Meanwhile, we ponder answers that are available in our free society.

It is our love of country, our patriotism, that is being tested as we focus on those who die and suffer on our behalf.  Join me as I come to insist that we will not be found wanting.  This Memorial Day our armed forces again serve our freedom loving Nation.  Remember to honor our troops.  Never forget our veterans.  And always—Stand Up for America.

comments powered by Disqus