Memorial Day 2005
"Things are going OK, relatively speaking hereÃ¯Â¿Â½
"I see more courage in a day than I could ever have imagined before this. You inspire me to keep on going out here. You've made it so much easier for me to see the big picture as I go through life. That service to God and others is what matters."
Those were the words of Josh Byers, an Army Captain assigned to Fox Troop, Second Squadron, Third Armored Calvary Regiment of Fort Carson, Colo. This West Point graduate was killed when his convoy hit an explosive device east of Baghdad.
His last letter home spoke of God and family.
His letter is very similar to another American soldier who fought and died in a foreign land some 40 years earlier.
"Remember when we were kids on Easter the girls would be all dressed up in new hats, pretty dresses... and us boys with new shoes and shirts and off to church we would go and after come home to look for our Easter baskets.
"What good times. I hope God will bring me back home so that I may marry the girl I love, which will be in March if things go OK.
"Then I can watch my kids get all dressed up and head for church and live that day over again. Holidays are no different than any other day.
Every day is Monday in Vietnam."
Five days after writing this letter, Army Private Timothy G. Robinson of Hoyt Lakes, Minn., caught his foot on a trip wire, setting off a mine that killed him instantly.
Final fond memories of loved ones, life back home and serving our Lord.
The word is derived from the Greek "mermera" (mer-mer-ah) meaning, "to care or cherish."
They cherished their faith in God, their loved ones, the American way of life and their duty. These fallen heroes died in the pursuit and protection of those things that they cherished.
On Memorial Day it is our turn to demonstrate our sense of "mermera" (mer-mer-ah) Ã¯Â¿Â½ to remember how much we cherish their sacrifices.
To quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in his Memorial Day address in 1884, this day "celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith Ã¯Â¿Â½it embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly."
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation.
State legislatures passed proclamations designating May 30 as Memorial Day and soon the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May.
For many years Memorial Day has been a day when America pays homage to our fallen, with stores closed and with everyone's attention focused on a day of prayer and thanksgiving.
Solemn ceremonies are held at cemeteries across the country. Speeches are given honoring those who gave their lives. Wreaths are laid. Taps is played.
Today we gather here to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. We come here to honor our fallen comrades by our presence. We understand that on Memorial Day we reflect on the ideals and values that our soldiers stood for and died defending.
We are reminded that they died so that we could live and continue to cherish the things they loved Ã¯Â¿Â½God, country and family.
To quote Justice Holmes again, "Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not deathÃ¯Â¿Â½of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring."
I submit to you that every day is Memorial Day. Each day provides us with an opportunity to honor, remember and respect our fallen heroes.
It is also a day to be thankful for the young men and women serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa and in over 130 foreign lands around the world.
For 86 years The American Legion has provided our society with many opportunities to perpetuate the principles of democracy, decency and patriotism.
You see it in our programs such as Flag Education, Scouting, Boys State, Boys Nation and the National High School Oratorical Contest.
And you see it in our projects to remind all Americans that there is a price to be paid for our freedom. Through our Blue Star Salute initiative, the Gold Star Banner program and The American Legacy Scholarship Fund, we breathe life into that part of our Preamble "to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars."
Let me leave you with this one last note from an American soldier who served in Iraq.
"I think you all know what is happening, and I hope you are praying for me. I love you very much. God will reward me in the future for the sacrifice I am making. Take care, and I hope to see you in the next few months."
Francisco Martinez-Flores was a Marine PFC assigned to the First Tank Battalion, First Marine Division, Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center of Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif.
A few days after he sent this letter to his family, he was killed in action.
He was in the midst of convoy operations when the bridge he was traveling over collapsed and his tank plunged into the Euphrates River, sinking and killing everyone inside.
"God will reward me in the future for the sacrifice I am making," he wrote in his last letter home.
And so He shall, Francisco.
And we too will always remember you Ã¯Â¿Â½ and all of your comrades - of all wars Ã¯Â¿Â½ who laid down their lives for our country.
May God bless them and may God bless you for caring enough to be here today.