Lanesboro Memorial Day message
encourages expression of gratitude
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 4:57 AM
The following is the Memorial Day address presented in Lanesboro by Dr. Jan Meyer.
The Lanesboro American Legion members process towards the Lanesboro War Memorial Community Center on Monday morning, prior to holding a ceremony in the community center in honor of Memorial Day.MELISSA VANDER PLAS/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
There's a video that is making its way around the Internet titled "Putting Up the Flag." In it, a father walks up to the front steps of his house, sits down on the top one and says, "So my daughter is home from college this weekend. This morning, as I was putting up the flag, she asked me 'Dad, why are you flying the flag?' Oh, I don't know, I told her. I guess because it's Saturday, and it's a nice day. And it seemed a good thing to do. She said, 'Oh,' and went back into the house."
He continued, "I'm not that great with words. But I thought about her question while I was out mowing the grass and this is what I wish I had told her - I'm putting up the flag because it is Saturday, and later on maybe I'll invite the neighbors over, Charlie and Patty, and we'll grill something. Charlie and I will get into a good-natured argument about politics or whatever. We never agree on much of anything, Charlie and me. I'm putting up the flag because Charlie and I can do that here, we can disagree about politics or religion, or whatever. We can do that here without either of us having to worry about someone hauling us away.
"Maybe we'll grill burgers. Or go cheaper and do hot dogs. Around here about everybody can afford hot dogs because we're blessed in this country. Yeah, blessed. That's why I'm putting up the flag.
"And then tomorrow we'll go to church and we'll worship. I'm putting up the flag because around here we can think about God, and talk about God and worship God and nobody is going to tell you you can't.
"And I'm putting up the flag because the neighbor kid's in the Marines and I want his parents to know I am proud of him. And I....well, huh...I'm putting up the flag because it's a nice flag, for a nice place. It's not a perfect place, not even close. But it's my place and I am glad it is.
"So, I am putting up the flag because it's Saturday. And because I can!"
That man understands gratitude. And that's what I would like to talk about today.
Twenty years ago, William Buckley wrote a book that he titled "Gratitude: Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country." (1990, NY: Random House)
In his introduction, he told the story of a young monk who wanted to express his devotion to his god. During the monk's first week at the monastery, he observed the abilities and gifts of his fellow monks. Some "sang like angels, others played their musical instruments...still others rhapsodized with the tongues of poets." All used their talents in praise. But the only thing that this young novice had learned in the way of special skills before entering the monastery was to entertain very modestly as a juggler.
He really wanted to show his gratitude, so in the middle of the night, walking furtively so he would not be seen and mocked by his brother monks, he made his way to the chapel with his sack full of wooden mallets and balls. There he did his act in front of the altar. It must have been an odd scene, showing his honor with tricks that are meant to capture the interest of 6-year-old children. That is also gratitude.
In his book, Buckley goes on to ask the question how we acknowledge our gratitude to our country and our heritage.
"Well, one juggles before the altar, if that is what one knows how to do."
Like the juggler, we owe something; we owe something to our country and to our veterans, and we need to pay our debt. That is why we chose to be here in this particular place today.
Many people see Memorial Day as just a day off to make a three-day weekend, but it is much more than a day off. It's a day set aside to remind us of those who literally gave their all for our country: to mourn the loss, remember their lives and be thankful for their sacrifices. It is also a day to show our gratitude.
We, as Americans, recognize this day out of our patriotic duty to our country. We also do this in honor of all of you who have served in the military, doing so to make America what she is today: free, strong and a nation worth fighting for.
Because people have fought and some have died for this country, we have so many rights that are not necessarily enjoyed around the world. We have the right to pursue peace, prosperity and happiness. And we are grateful for the men and women in uniform who are now standing between our nation and those in the world who would do us harm. We don't have to know the veterans personally to respect their contribution to our lives.
Memorial Day is not an event; it is part of a process that should go on all year long. This day is just one day set aside to remind us of what we owe to our veterans, a reminder that we can find ways to show our gratitude all year long. Unfortunately, we tend to forget about it the rest of the year, and too many people even forget what today is really all about.
Barbara Bush said, "We live in the greatest, freest nation on earth. Teaching our kids to appreciate the blessings that come with being an American helps them understand the stake they, too, have in contributing to our progress."
Memorial Day can be a time to teach our children that we would not be living life as we now know it if someone had not paid the price of liberty for us. We need to teach our children gratitude for those who paved the way for us and for them.
Twenty years ago Buckley called the lack of gratitude a "modern affliction....the failure to acknowledge a running debt to one's homeland....and the disposition of modern man to take for granted everything he enjoys, without any sense of incurring an obligation."
That affliction has gotten worse, not better. On the front page of the May 14 Post Bulletin there was a story headlined "Markers stolen from vets' graves." Datelined Cannon Falls, Minn., it reported that more than 100 flag markers are missing from veterans' graves over the past few weeks. "Officials believe the rods from the markers are being sold as scrap metal." Local officials are calling it "a disgrace" and a "sacrilege." It's an example of what Buckley was describing as "a modern affliction."
Another sad example of this "modern affliction" might be in a second news story of the past few weeks: how veterans are being treated - or not - in some of the VA hospitals around the country. We owe them more than that. We should be doing so much better for our heroes.
It was a few weeks before Christmas in 1917. The beautiful snowy landscapes of Europe were blackened by war.
The trenches on one side held the Germans, and on the other side the trenches were filled with Americans. It was World War I. The exchange of gunshots was intense. Separating them was a very narrow strip of no-man's-land. A young German soldier attempting to cross that no-man's-land had been shot and had become entangled in the barbed wire. He cried out in anguish and, in pain, continued to scream.
Between the noise of the shells, everyone in the area could hear him scream. When one American soldier could stand it no longer, he crawled out to that German soldier. When the Americans realized what he was doing they stopped firing. Then a German officer realized what the young American was doing and he ordered his men to also cease firing. Now, there was a weird silence across the no-man's-land.
Lying on his stomach, the American disentangled the German soldier and then stood up with the German in his arms. He walked straight to the German trenches and gently placed the wounded man in the waiting arms of his comrades. Having done that, he turned and started back to the American trenches.
Suddenly, there was a hand on his shoulder that spun him around. There stood a German officer who was wearing the Iron Cross, the highest German honor for bravery. He quickly took it from his own uniform and placed it on the American. Both of them then walked back to their trenches and both sides resumed the war. That German was grateful for the American soldier's bravery.
We will not all do something that spectacular to show our gratitude for this great country. Some of us will juggle. But as Buckley said, we do owe something. To whom? "The dead being beyond our reach, our debt can only be expressed to one another... because we owe something to our veterans...." And the country.
Like the father who wanted to tell his daughter he was flying the flag because he can, we need to say thank you.
We all have a great opportunity to do something specific for our currently-serving active duty young men and women from this area.
The Lanesboro American Legion Auxiliary routinely sends them packages and, from all the feedback, we know they are so welcome. You can donate items on the list of needs and wants, or donate money to help purchase those things. Items or money may be dropped at the Legion, or given to any Auxiliary member. Copies of that list can be found at the Lanesboro American Legion website. It's one way to say thank you. Because we can.
There is a special verse in the great patriotic hymn, "America the Beautiful" that says "O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved..."
To all of America's heroes, who more than self their country loved, we thank you.
And to everyone, thank you for being here today. Please take home one word, no, one idea, with you today. Gratitude. And then pass it on. All year long. Because we can.