Seven years ago, I wrote a tribute to our veterans that borrowed heavily upon President Abraham Lincoln’s extraordinary address at Gettysburg. It struck me then, and it strikes me now, that his words of homage and of exhortation remain compelling.
Though the discomforts of the “war” (the 2016 election campaign) our nation has just survived pale in comparison to the horrors of the Civil War, the echoes of the questions posed with rifle volleys and cannonades in the 19th century were heard in the conflict we have just finished waging with ourselves. So, too, can we hear the echoes of hope and inspiration Lincoln set ringing by his address.
And so, with adaptations appropriate to our times, and with apologies to President Lincoln, I offer this Veterans Day tribute:
Twelve score years ago, our ancestors brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in a vision of liberty and dedicated to the proposition that would, after a long time, be understood as the conviction that all men and women, of whatever background, are created equal.
We have just ended what has seemed like a great political war, one that some feel has tested whether we as one nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met now in the aftermath of that war, and with a sorrowful awareness that the struggle for human equality and freedom continues across this nation and across the globe.
It no longer has specific battlefields. It is fought in running actions on rocky roads and isolated villages in Armenia, in Syria, and in Iraq. It also is fought, with different arms, in thousands of communities where goodwill and charitable hearts build bonds of fellowship rather than bombs of destruction. It is fought here, at home, every time we struggle to deal with a senseless act of violence, however motivated, and conclude that what matters is the humanity of every person, and not their ideology.
On this day, Veterans Day, we remember those who have fought in real wars, against real enemies, that this nation might live. We pause to honor those among us who have taken up the cause of freedom and equality in the armed services of this great nation. We remember, too, those who gave their lives that the vision of liberty and equality for all might become a reality. 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 time, or the places of final rest for those who have given their all. The brave men and women, living and dead, who have struggled for this vision have consecrated them far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note nor long remember what I say here, or what others will say in commemoration of our veterans. But the world can never forget what they have done. It is for us, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored veterans we take increased devotion to that cause for which they have served and suffered, and for which some have given the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that our nation, and every nation suffering from oppression, deprivation, disease, or disunion, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish, but shall spread throughout the earth.
God bless all who struggle for liberty and equality, for themselves and for others.
God bless our veterans.