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Rated: E · Monologue · Military · #1892751
A speech I wrote and delivered at our local Memorial Day ceremony several years ago.
We often hear Memorial Day referred to as the traditional start of summer. The business of Memorial Day is marked by sales of all sorts, sporting events, and three days of revelry throughout the country. I’m sure that many of you in the audience today are hoping that my remarks here are short so you can get an early start on your holiday plans. While my words will be brief, I do want to share some of my own feelings on what today is all about and I hope they bring a little perspective to the reason we are all here.

We gather here on our town green, like we do every year, around the flag pole and the memorial that bears the names of fellow citizens past and present who have served our country during time of war. This memorial is just like countless others on town greens all over the country. Even today, I dare say that for most of us memorials such as this are not much more than a list of names of people we may or may not know. Two years ago my family and I vacationed in Washington DC and while there we visited the National Memorials throughout the city that honor those who have served and sacrificed from all corners of the nation. The Vietnam Memorial with its list of over 58,000 names, the World War II Memorial with it’s field of stars commemorating the over 400,000 Americans killed in that conflict, as moving as these memorials are, I can’t help but feel they all fall short of the real reason we are gathered here today. As somber as that list of names carved in black granite, as overwhelming as that field of stars, or as humble as the list on our memorial here, the true meaning of today is found in the stories those lists of names and that field of stars represent.

I want to take some time this morning to share one of those stories with you. On our vacation in the Nation’s Capitol, my family and I visited Arlington National Cemetary. We visited the eternal flame at the grave of President Kennedy, we watched the changing of the guard at The Tomb of the Unknowns. For the most part, our visit there that day was just like the visit of any other tourist. For me however, the visit had a much more personal purpose. While my family took a break in the shade on that hot afternoon, I walked down Eisenhower Drive to section 66 of the cemetary. Following the numbers on the headstones, I finally found grave number 3528. From a distance the headstone looked just like the countless others around it. It wasn’t until I was close enough to read the name carved into the white marble that I realized I had reached my destination.

The last time I had seen Frank Winters was September 25th 1987. We were both members of the 1st Ranger Battalion and we were on a training deployment to Fort Bragg North Carolina. A month past his 22nd birthday, Sergeant Winters was just like the rest of us, a proud soldier in one of the finest units in the military. A young man in the prime of his life with the world at his fingertips. As we boarded the helicopter for our training mission that afternoon, neither Sergeant Winters nor any of the rest of us were aware of how quickly that world would change. We had no way of knowing that the aircraft we were riding in was going to crash before we could complete our mission. When the smoke and the chaos of that moment had cleared, many members of my unit were seriously injured and Frank Winters was dead.

Standing by his headstone that day, I was struck by how most of the people passing that spot saw nothing more than a name carved in a white marble stone. To them it looked exactly like all the other stones around it. They had no way of knowing the story represented by that specific name on that specific stone. CNN wasn’t there when the casket carrying Frank Winter’s body arrived home and I doubt the governor of his home state of Florida ordered flags flown at half staff to commemorate his passing. The details of the story represented by the name carved in that stone are known only to those of us who were privileged enough to know and love him. To us grave number 3528 in section 66 of Arlington National Cemetary is very different from the graves around it. To us it represents a very personal story. It is a story I remember frequently. I remember it every September 25th, I remember it every time I see or hear helicopter, and I remember it today. I share this story with you so that you can remember it too, because it is in that rememberance that the perspective I was looking for can be found.

In closing I would like to issue a challenge to all of you here this morning. Before you light your grills today, before you enjoy the fellowship of family and friends and the reprieve from work, take a moment to look at the plaque here on our green. I hope you are able to acknowledge that each of those names represents a story. I challenge you further to get to know some of those stories. Not just the local stories but also the stories represented on countless memorials to veterans and soldiers that we find wherever we travel. Learn the stories of people like my friend Frank Winters and remember them. Remember them often, but most especially remember them on the last Monday in May. While today may indeed mark the beginning of summer, I believe that the real tradition of Memorial Day is something a little more than that.
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