Memorial Day Dedication
Columbia Falls Veterans Memorial
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me begin by thanking the leadership of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, for inviting me to participate in the dedication of the Veterans Memorial here in Columbia Falls. I am honored to be with you today.
As many of you know, the Flathead Valley is my childhood home. This Veterans Memorial is a fitting tribute to those who served our communities and our country. I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Bill Schulte - the driving force and visionary who made this memorial a reality.
As we gather this Memorial Day to dedicate this monument to the men and women who have fought and died for our freedom, it is only appropriate to reflect upon the history of Memorial Day and its meaning to each and every one of us gathered here today.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service to our country. One of the first observances occurred on the heels of the Civil War in Columbus, Mississippi in 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. But those Mississippi women didn't just place flowers on the graves of the Confederate soldiers - they placed flowers on the graves of the Union soldiers as well.
In that gentle way, the healing of the north and south continued as both sides agreed on one thing; all the men and women who perished in that war should be honored for their bravery and service - for their deep commitment to their own communities.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 and has been observed annually ever since. All Presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower have observed Memorial Day with the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington.
But in a sense, the very first 'Memorial Day' was observed on November 19th, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to dedicate a new national cemetery to the soldiers who died in the battle that was the turning point of the Civil War.
With your permission, I would like to read a portion of his immortal address:
"We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. 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 ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract... We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
My friends, it is also fitting and proper that we gather here today to dedicate this memorial honoring those brave men and women who have served our nation in its hour of need, and gave their lives so that we might live in a free and prosperous United States of America. It is both our honor and our solemn responsibility to remember them, and to give grateful thanks that when their nation called, they answered with duty, honor and in so many cases, with their lives.
This memorial, and others like it across our nation, are essential so that as a nation, we may never forget the true price of freedom.
So today, we dedicate this Veterans Memorial, which will stand forever in this community as a tribute to those from the Columbia Falls area that fought for our country in time of war.
Ninety-four names -- ninety-four souls -- are commemorated here. To those who fought our battles and served our cause we owe our eternal gratitude.
As I said earlier, Bill Schulte was instrumental in making this memorial a reality. Bill served his nation in Vietnam. Bill told me that when the Viet Cong were sweeping in on his Seabee unit, his commander told the soldiers to "get your notes ready". The 'notes' he was referring to were the notes to go back home, back to their families if they were killed in action. Bill wrote his note, and he was able to bring it back with him when he returned. Others in his unit weren't as fortunate. Their notes were hand-delivered by a uniformed officer to their families.
This memorial records the names of 94 men and women from the area who served our nation in time of war. Many of these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. To every one of you I say, America will always honor your service and your sacrifice.
In closing, let me encourage you to take a few moments to walk through the memorial, and to reflect upon the gift that these brave men and women from the Columbia Falls area have given to each and every one of us. I assure you, there is no greater sense of gratitude than when you spend time personally reflecting on the sacrifices that these soldiers made so that we may live in freedom.
Thank you again for this opportunity to say these few words today.
May God bless America.