Not for glory, honor or fame

Ira Joe Davis

Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by thanking the leadership of the

American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States

for allowing me to participate in your Memorial Day ceremonies.

Memorial Day has a special significance to me, and I am truly honored

to be with you today.

When I accepted your invitation to speak, I was presented with a

dilemma. You see, I received several "canned" speeches to choose from

for today's message. They are prepared by professional speechwriters,

and all are superior speeches, although they normally include some

hidden agenda like the need for a stronger military, or the success

of our latest military intervention. However, I felt that these

topics miss the true meaning of Memorial Day, and so I chose not to

use any of them, and wrote my own speech instead. I ask your

forgiveness if my comments are not as polished as you may be

accustomed to, but they are more sincere.

Most of us are familiar with the adage, "Old soldiers never die,

they just fade away." That saying is grossly untrue on two counts,

and that is what I wish to comment upon for the next few minutes.

First of all, old soldiers do die, often in combat; and so do

young soldiers, and sailors, and Marines, and airmen. Service

members, young and old, men and women, from every branch of military

service, die defending our country and our way of life. They fight in

popular and unpopular wars, in countries all over the world. They

carry the American flag, and the ideals and values for which it

stands, to every corner of the world.

They don't go for glory, or honor, or fame. They go because their

duly elected officials, who represent the American people, including

you and me, ask them to place themselves in harm's way. They

sacrifice family, friends, and often their lives, to serve their

country. The New Testament tells us that there is no greater love

than to give your life for another. Our fallen comrades have

demonstrated that love, and that is what Memorial Day is all about.

The second misconception is that old soldiers just "fade away."

Our fallen comrades didn't fade away. In most cases, they were simply

forgotten. One reason for this is that the true meaning of Memorial

Day has been lost by the majority of the American people. To most

Americans, Memorial Day is simply one of the federal holidays that

bracket the summer season. Memorial Day for them marks the beginning

of summer, the opening of the community swimming pool, the start of a

family vacation, the first barbecue of the year, or a much-needed

three-day weekend. For the shopping malls and department stores,

Memorial Day is an excuse for one more spectacular sales event.

Others confuse Memorial Day for Veterans Day or Armed Forces Day,

and although it is highly appropriate to honor all our veterans,

living and dead, and to recognize their immeasurable contributions to

our country, that is not the purpose of today's ceremonies.

Memorial Day is an annual holiday to honor all armed services

personnel killed in wars in the defense of our country. It was

originally called Decoration Day, and is traditionally marked by

parades, memorial speeches, and the decoration of graves with flowers

and flags. It was first observed for the purpose of decorating the

graves of American Civil War dead. It was observed on May 30 until

1971, when most states adopted the federal schedule for holiday

observances. In recent times, we have also included fallen policemen

and firemen, and others who gave their lives in the performance of

their duties to our society.

The forerunner of Memorial Day was born on Nov. 19, 1863, when

President Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg, Penn., to help dedicate

a new national cemetery to the brave soldiers who died in the battle

that served as the turning point of the Civil War. With your

permission, I would like to read a portion of his now immortal


"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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate,

we cannot 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 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."

Ladies and gentlemen, it is also fitting and proper that we gather

here today to remember and honor those brave men and women who have

given their lives that we might live in a free and prosperous United

States of America. But in the same sense, it is impossible for us to

do anything, or say anything, that can add to the honor that they so

nobly earned. Rather, it is our solemn responsibility to remember

them, and to give grateful thanks that when their nation called, they

answered with their lives.

If President Lincoln were alive today, I believe he would be both

amazed and disappointed, because his Gettysburg Address is better

remembered than the fallen men to which he dedicated it. But there is

still a spark of hope, because you are here today. You made time in

your schedules to remember these brave men and women.

Gen. Robert E. Lee once said, "It is well that war is so terrible,

or we would become fond of it." The danger in not remembering the

sacrifices made by these men and women is that as a nation, we may

forget that the price of freedom is never cheap. Your presence here

today is a living example of what we as an American people should all

be doing on this Memorial Day.

We are all shaped by our experiences. My boyhood memories of

Memorial Day weekends go back to the times that my family would

travel back to our home church for a weekend of work and fellowship.

We would all sit in an unair-conditioned, one-room church, fanning

feverishly with cardboard fans on Popsicle sticks provided by the

local funeral home. We sang gospel songs, had picnics on the grounds,

and drank spring water from a tin cup. At one point in the weekend,

everyone moved to the church cemetery, and we would spend several

hours working on the graves of our families and friends. We hoed out

weeds, cut the grass, repaired fences, straightened headstones, and

planted fresh flowers on the graves.

The work was not a burden; instead, it united families and

communities with their past. It is easy to remember your ancestors

and their contributions when you spend some time with them.

Unfortunately, these practices have all but disappeared from today's


In closing, I would like to encourage you to take a few moments to

walk through the cemetery, and to visit the graves of our fallen

servicemen and women. I assure you, there is no greater sense of

gratitude than when you spend time personally reflecting on the

sacrifices that these fallen comrades made for you and me. I thank

you very much for this opportunity to say these few words today. May

God bless America.

* Editor's note: On the date of this speech, May 28, 1995, Ira Joe

Davis was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. His speech was

delivered at Robinson's Run Cemetery, McDonald, Penn.

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