American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger called on Congress to remember Abraham Lincoln's pledge to care for veterans during his speech at the 16th president's tomb Wednesday in Springfield, Ill.
"His promise to ‘care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan,' is a reminder to us all that we should never forget the cost of freedom," Dellinger said. "When today's pundits and bureaucrats in Washington tell us that financial challenges will require that we cut veterans' benefits, we should remember the challenges faced by our 16th president when he made his solemn promise."
The commander ticked off a list of the challenges Lincoln faced, including the nation on the verge of civil war and 3 million Americans bound in slavery.
"While President Lincoln recognized that war is a horrible solution, he knew sometimes it is the only solution," Dellinger said. "And he also knew that caring for veterans and their families is a cost of war. Just as President Lincoln made a sacred promise to America's veterans, our veterans by their very deeds have allowed Lincoln to keep another promise at Gettysburg: that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth."
Dellinger was among dozens of American Legion Family members who attended Springfield Post 32‘s annual Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Abraham Lincoln at Oak Ridge Cemetery. The post has commemorated Lincoln's birthday this way every year since 1935. In addition to the Department of Illinois, Legion Family members from Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire participated in the 80th version of the pilgrimage.
The tradition is important for Legionnaires to share Lincoln's legacy, said Department of Illinois Commander Bernie Stegmueller.
"With our kids now, the trouble is they're not getting the history," he said. "Hopefully, those veterans behind us will keep the history going. The trouble is that now, we're losing our history."
The event is the only annual recognition ceremony held at Lincoln's tomb on his birthday. Dellinger led a contingent that placed 20 wreaths at the base of a bust of Lincoln, outside the tomb. This year, the tomb was closed to the public for ongoing renovations.
After the wreath-laying ceremony, Legionnaire Willis "Bill" Logan — who works for the city of Springfield — talked about Lincoln's legacy.
"Mr. Lincoln is truly the only American icon. His spirit remains with us as we honor his memory," Logan said. "Mr. Lincoln started as a sales clerk in New Salem, and studied by candlelight. He was guided by principles and values throughout his life. And those principles and values led him to be president. It is indeed a great honor to place a wreath at the tomb of our nation's greatest president."
Logan also pointed out that "today in the midst of great political divide and polarization of interests, all residents of Springfield, all citizens of America for that matter, can look for inspiration to the life of Mr. Lincoln to ensure that America stands firm now and in the future."
Dellinger also focused his speech on the partisan budget battles, including the threat to military retirees cost-of-living adjustment benefits.
"The budget battles fought today in Washington are walks in the park compared to issues that President Lincoln faced," he said. "America could use a strong dose of Lincoln's legendary commitment and compassion."