The following is a Memorial Day speech American Legion National Commander James "Bill" Oxford has given in the past and has adapted for 2020.
We are here today to celebrate Memorial Day.
But it could be better said “lest we forget”.
If you are here today as a veteran who served this country,
YOU are to be commended. Thank you for your service, and the sacrifices you made in service to your country.
But, if you are here, today is not about you.
Today is about those who served this nation, and made the SUPREME SACRIFICE in service to this country.
The American military has served this country for more than 240 years. That service can never be understated or repaid.
That service has stretched from the American Revolution in 1775, to current service in more than 130 countries around the world today. And to this day Americans continue to die on foreign soil.
Sadly, none of the men and women who have died in service to this nation can be replaced. There have been more than 1 million of them.
But their sacrifices must be remembered, and honored.
Most were young, in their prime. Husbands, sons, daughters, fathers, wives, mothers, uncles. They all left a nation that will be forever in their debt.
Picture this in your mind’s eye.
The empty seat at the dinner table.
Opening presents at Christmas with someone missing.
The Thanksgiving Day football game in the yard with the star player missing.
The daughter who has no father to walk her down the aisle.
All lost in service to you and me and this country.
I will have trouble with this, but I would like to introduce to a couple of personal acquaintances.
William L Lutz. I remember Billie, from the 3rd grade, he was in the 2nd. I still see his brother Eddie. I went to high school with Eddie’s wife Carolyn.
D Co, 1st BN, 46 INF, Americal Div, Republic of Viet Nam
Killed May 12, 1969.
Benny Prestwood, B Co, 1st BN, 1st Marines, Republic of Viet Nam. We played football on the same team in high school. I was a 10th grader, he was a 9th grader. Good running back, but the thing I remember about Benny, he carried the football funny, up and down, not front to back. Benny’s last letter to his family, 3 days after Thanksgiving, Nov 1968 was written on a c-ration box because paper was so scarce in the field. Previously wounded, he died Jan 9, 1969.
I got to Viet Nam in September
2006- SSGT Jason Ramseur had previously been deployed to Afghanistan, and had only been in Iraq a month when he was killed by an IED.
He was from my home town, I used to do the PA for the High school football games and I called his name many times on the football field. He was not a big guy on the field, but he terrorized running backs as a linebacker. And on the baseball diamond, I saw him hit a baseball into another zip code. Killed in service to this country
In 2008, another 29 year old from my home town was killed when the vehicle he was driving struck a roadside bomb. He was a true southern gentleman, and proud of what he was doing. Robby Bowman’s family and friends all talked about his personal motto.
”My Life has a taste that the sheltered will never know”
Robby told the complete story when his little sister ask him why he had to leave again. “I go and do what I do so you won’t have to, my little princess”
At its core, Memorial Day commemorates the universal all-encompassing words from the Bible when it says-
”No greater love than this does any man have, than to lay down his life for his friends”
One more introduction.
1st Plt, Charlie Company, 26th Inf Regiment, 1st Inf Div, US Army.
On a motorized Patrol, a 19 year old Spec 4 was manning the machine gun on the top of an armored HUMVEE as they moved through the streets, high buildings on either side. You can see the picture.
Suddenly, though not-un-expectedly a grenade is thrown at the vehicle. It lands in the turret, and fell through the bottom opening in the turret, and fell all the way to the bottom of the vehicle where 4 other soldiers were riding.
What the specialist was trained to do, what he did, and why he did it is a different story.
Rather than save himself, Specialist Ross McGinnis, from Meadville, PA jumped down inside the vehicle, and smother the grenade with this own body. He died instantly, but the 4 other men were injured but survived their wounds.
In June of 2008, in the Oval Office, his parents were presented the Medal of Honor on his behalf.
An American hero by any standard.
But does any medal or award make the loss of their son any easier. I think NOT.
Oliver Wendell Holmes called Memorial Day, “Our most sacred holiday” and urged that “We not ponder with sad thoughts the passing of our heroes, but rather ponder their legacy”.
As we ponder the passing of heroes, Ross McGinnis meets every description.
These five deaths can never be repaid.
But, AND I ask you to consider this very carefully.
Can you consider the 4 other soldiers who lived because Ross McGinnis died?
Those 4 other soldiers, their wives, their children, and their extended families owe their WORLD to the young man who gave his life to protect theirs.
I knew Billy Lutz, Benny Prestwood, and Jason Ramseur personally, and Robby Bowman’s family pretty well, and I could describe how their death made me feel.
I suppose many of you here could relate the loose of close friends,
BUT, try as we might, we can analyze, dissect, discuss, review, BUT NEVER come up with a way to express the feelings those 4 other soldiers HAD and Will HAVE forever for Ross McGinnis.
We as Americans need to understand how thankful those 4 soldiers are, and realize we should feel the same way about every person who ever gave their life in service to this country.
Consider that, when we talk about this day, and the people who have given their life to preserve and protect this country.
Are we that thankful?
The Americans who have lost their lives in service to this country have not done so in vain, but for a bigger, and more noble cause.
To not only America, but to the world.
Only a few people choose the dangerous, but essential work of protecting this country,
We always need to remember, honor, and recognize those people who choose to bear the sword to defend this country.
We need to be thankful for their service and their sacrifices, but there is something else we need to realize.
We have a responsibility to carry on.
We cannot let those deaths be in vain. Take up that quarrel with our enemies, never give up, never abandon the American ideals, and always preserve the principals of justice, freedom, and democracy.
We have a responsibility to carry on, preserve and protect this country.
We all know America will always have people who wish us harm, and will never run out of enemies.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day.
Be safe, practice social distancing.
Things are improving.
We will be better and stronger when the get through this national emergency.
But for Memorial Day 2020, we need to remember, honor, and be eternally grateful for those members of our society who lost their life protecting us.
God Bless American and God Bless the American servicemembers who have lost their life protecting her and us.