Memorial Day Eulogy 2014
Yesterday I had the honor of joining our community's remembrance of fallen soldiers at the Memorial Day Observances at Lakeside Park in Forest Lake and three local cemeteries. Here is what I said.
Memorial Day Eulogy 2014
This is my third time being honored to give one of the Memorial Day Eulogies for our community. I confess that I always feel my words are inadequate to express the earnest, grateful, and contemplative attitudes that are appropriate for this occasion. It’s not just that I feel my words don’t mean enough, but that the task is too great for my pen.
How do you thank the dead on behalf of the living? How do you enjoy freedom, but not take it for granted? How do you celebrate this weekend with a mixture of sorrow and joy? How do you eulogize our departed military veterans?
Eulogy is a combination of two Greek words that means “good words” or “good speaking.” I hope to speak well of the dead this morning.
In 1962, just two years before he died, General Douglas MacArthur gave a speech titled, “Duty, Honor, Country” at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He does a better job of extolling the American soldier than I ever could.
He’s addressing future officers of the US Army when he says…
And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.
He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.
Those are the people that we honor today. It’s hard to say too much about them. When duty called, they answered. Some volunteered and some were drafted, but all served their country nobly… and without a thought of what they could get out of it.
General MacArthur also said.
The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.
In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.
However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.
No country can survive without citizens that are willing to put their well being at risk for the sake of their country. By God’s grace, America has produced people that pay this price every time it is necessary.
That willingness to give your life for others can be one of the highest expressions of noble character. It’s like what the Bible says [John 15:13, ESV] “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Minnesota has an especially rich heritage of military sacrifice. In the Civil War—that awful conflict—our state had one of the highest volunteer and casualty rates per capita of any northern state.
Many of you probably know that the First Minnesota Regiment sustained especially heavy casualties at Gettysburg. On the evening of July 3, 1863 they were commanded to charge General Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade as it was about break the Union lines. The First Minnesota was outnumbered 5 to 1, but they didn’t hesitate. Percentages differ but they sustained at least 68% and as many as 82% casualties on this one charge.
In his book, Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers, Richard Moe relates the story of when President Calvin Coolidge came to Cannon Falls, Minnesota early in the last century to dedicate a statute to Colonel William Colvill.
In speaking of the First Minnesota and their charge at Gettysburg, President Coolidge said…
In all the history of warfare this charge has few, if any, equals and no superiors. It was an exhibition of the most exalted heroism against an apparently insuperable antagonist. By holding the Confederate forces in check until other reserves came up, it probably saved the Union army from defeat…. So far as human judgment can determine, Colonel Colvill and those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank among the saviors of their country.
–Moe, Richard. Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001, 313.
Soldiers like that were minted in Minnesota. Soldiers like that are what we honor today.
And we say thank you. That’s the best we can do, and it’s appropriate even if it will never be enough. In the midst of the busyness of this weekend we carve out a little time to say thank you to those that were willing to give their lives for us.
And we commit them to God who does all things well, and knows each one by name.
O God our Father, we thank You for giving us men and women like the ones that are laid to rest in this cemetery and so many other cemeteries across our country and in foreign lands. No one deserves the sacrifice of another’s life for himself or herself and we honor those that were willing to make that sacrifice.
God, you elevated sacrifice on that day when you gave Your own Son on the cross for us so that those who repent and trust could enjoy eternity with You.
Your sacrifice is the pattern for all other sacrifices.
It is proper that we honor those military dead that were willing to give everything. We pray to you, the giver and taker of life. No one falls without Your notice. None are missing that You have not known.
We commit them to you, the God of all the earth who always does right. And we thank you for them in the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world,