Last year he was invited to be the speaker at his town's public celebration of the day. He may very well be the oldest veteran in residence. It was evident that he was delighted at the prospect. His patriotic feelings run high. His concern for the state of our nation is obvious. He has an excellent mind. Plus, the speech would be given on his birthday. What a gift!
But as the day approached this year it became apparent that a precious opportunity for photo-op and glad-handing on the part of local politicos was going to infringe on my father's allotted time. Rather than shorten the speech he had already prepared thereby giving short shrift to the message he wished to deliver, he bowed out.
Dad, forgive me the few edits. I hope they serve your message.
Reflections on Memorial Day
by Helmut E. Nimke
Rosemary Bennett wrote:
If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Of what she loved most,
She’d ask first,
“Where’s my son?
What’s happened to Abe?
What’s he done?
Poor little Abe,
Left all alone
Except for Tom,
Who’s a rolling stone;
He was only nine
The year I died.
I remember still
How hard he cried.
In a little shack
With Hardly a shirt
To cover his back,
And a prairie wind
To blow him down,
Or pinching times
If he went to town.
“You wouldn’t know
About my son?
Did he grow tall?
Did he have fun?
Did he learn to read?
Did he get to town?
Do you know his name?
Did he get on?
Nancy, he is here with us.
The privilege and honor of a Memorial Day “Last Hurrah” has been given to me in this President Lincoln’s bicentennial year. And so, please bear with these personal reflections of an old man, on his 88th birthday.
Our nation is blest in that our war heroes come in such a variety of identities and convictions. Yet, they have a single common denominator; their oath to primary duty, to “support the Constitution of the United States.”
Memorial Day is not a wake. Lincoln made it a thanksgiving and call to duty. Our thanks are due those who, in their service to this nation, paid the highest price. To their honor, hero or victim, willing or unwilling, with or without conviction, the value of their service, as the objective of their oath, survives.
Since 1789, members of the armed services have sworn at enlistment, “I will support the Constitution of the United States.” For our Commander-in-Chief, the Presidential oath reads, “preserve, protect and defend”; a duty properly one step higher. These oaths have no expiration dates. Survivors, as I, carry the duty still. The Constitution is a “Contract”, the guarantor of the assertions of the Declaration of Independence. As such, it has been made the subject of the oath of service sworn by the President and all those we honor today. As citizens we share that same duty to each other as a legacy.
President Lincoln is in the pantheon of war dead. He is with us still as mentor. At the most trying time in our history, he left a profoundly prescient summary of the foundation of our Memorial Day and our patriotic duty.
On November 19, 1863, Lincoln dedicated a cemetery at Gettysburg where rested those who died in the 90 decree heat of the first three days in July of that year. The 4th of July saw Lee’s unopposed retreat. The battle had cost 6,000 killed and 27,000 wounded; losses felt to this day.
At the conclusion of his famous dedication speech Lincoln said:
It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is… 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.
The work Lincoln bequeathed continues every day. Lincoln seems to have written these words yesterday. He spoke of the “People”. The Constitution of 1786 begins with the words, “We the People”. These words were made real in1789 with the addition of the “Bill of Rights”. The Constitution is still democracy at work.
As to Lincoln’s “New birth of the freedom”, the States of the Confederacy worked at aborting that. Under fraudulent ‘States Rights”, domestic terrorism and disenfranchisement were to follow for over 70 years; the Constitution not withstanding. Without legal restraint, from 1866 to 1876, more than 3,000 African Americans and their white allies were murdered by terrorist organizations as the South de-constructed Lincoln’s re-construction.
Bi-partisanship and brotherhood were not children of that war. The Ku-Klux-Klan ruled while wearing the mask of religious virtue, in the manner of terrorists with whom we are familiar today. The rebirth of such groups with their neo-nazi flavor darkens our constitutional horizon. Terrorism is no stranger to America.
Having sworn to “protect” the Constitution at my own induction in 1942, the Army thought I could do that best in Meridian, Mississippi, where my bride would come to share its honeymoon attractions. As Yankees, it disturbed us when the Negroes stepped into the gutter to allow us free passage on the sidewalk. It shamed us. The Army was right; the Constitution needed “protection”. The population, along with the Services, were segregated by the “States Rights” rules of the Confederacy. There were many Whites in the South who, in personal hazard, abhorred it. Lincoln was saved all that.
In his wisdom, Lincoln had urged:
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must dis-enthrall ourselves and then we will save our country.
All wars, good, bad and the many undefined, have a way of turning blood into gold. That of the many for the few. Today we are dedicated to sending our heroic youth to feed the dogs in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever policy opportunity affords.
In its April issue, the American Legion Magazine writes, “There is a very small percentage of people who are sacrificing an awful lot in what is soon to be the longest war in our nation’s history.”
The valor of ordinary citizens in support of the Constitution also deserves Memorial notice. By their effort, the Confederacy, as the North, has been made to do substantial social laundry with constitutional detergents and law. The rough road was traveled with purpose by three young men whose defense of civil rights honors the nation.
Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman where murdered on Sunday, June 21, 1964, in Nesoba Country, Mississippi, by domestic terrorists of the Klan’s “White Knights”, dedicated to the destruction of Lincoln’s Re-construction and the “Bill of Rights”. A trial was held in Meridian, Mississippi concerning civil rights charges, but not murder. The terrorists are with us still, while, as always, our service youth, under oath, defend the Constitution and illuminate our duty.
Birthdays bear gifts. You’ve given me the gift of your attention and patience. I thank you. I gave you the memory of duty. In support, I provide you with the user’s manual entitled, The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Untied States”. Pick up a copy when we close. Study this booklet as a property owner’s mortgage contract, with fixed interest, never to be foreclosed, of “we the People” with each other and with those who govern. Only with every citizen’s dedication to it will this nation endure.
Thank you all for honoring this day and those ahead.