On November 12, 1969, I was killed in combat in Vietnam, toe-tagged on the triage deck of the U.S.S. Sanctuary, and, at least momentarily, dismissed as dead. And, so, it is my very special privilege to be here with you.
We have gathered today-not just here, but across our nation and the world-to honor our dead, in particular those killed in service to us and to our nation. As President Lincoln noted, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."
We have gathered not to speak to the life or actions of any one person, but, rather, to all who gave their lives for our principles, our beliefs, and our freedom.
We honor, in memory and word, the men and women because they served this nation in military uniform, because they answered a call in a time of crisis, and because they personally responded to a "greater good".
The sheer numbers of Americans killed in combat are remarkable; the numbers of those who served, survived, and died after combat are staggering. Historically, American military men and women have given, in significant numbers, their lives in service to this nation.
Let us, today, respectfully remember them. And, let us take from them a renewed awareness of that for which they gave their live's of what it means to be an American.
I carry two reminders of who I am and what I am: the penny and the dollar bill. From these, we may quickly discern the fundamental principles of this great nation-ideals which continue to elude the "Summer Soldier and the Sunshine Patriot".
The penny, our one-cent coin, is our smallest, and seemingly least significant piece of money. Yet, its worth to me far exceeds marketplace value. President Lincoln, perhaps our most common president, reminds me of the need for common men and women to rise to uncommon heights and to give our lives when necessary for a cause which is right. The notion of oneness, inherent in the "One Cent" marking and in our motto "E Pluribus Unum", nudges me from isolation and into a world of brotherhood. "In God We Trust" is a simple reminder of a gospel fact. So much ignored or overlooked food for thought is embossed on the commonest coin of an uncommon people.
The one-dollar bill is especially worthy of our attention, for it links today's patriotism with that of our common past. While The Great Seal of the United States is secure in our nation's capitol, it remains accessible to us common citizens on the smallest, most-common denomination of our paper currency-the one-dollar bill. This is where we find the symbols designed by our colonial forefathers representing the highest ideals and the most basic values shared by Americans.
On the back side of the dollar bill, The Great Seal is shown with two sides: obverse (front) and reverse (back). On the obverse side, an unfinished pyramid of thirteen levels is set in the wilderness. Above it is the ultimate piece necessary for completion of this pyramid, our early nation-the radiant eye of the Creator. In Latin are the words "Annuit Coeptus" and "Novus Ordo Seclorum". The first translates, "He has smiled on our many blessings." The second translates, "A new order of the ages". Clearly The Great Seal is filled with symbols rendering memorial the spiritual dimensions of our nation-an endeavor by man which requires the Creator in order to be complete.
The reverse side of The Great Seal shows an eagle holding an olive branch with thirteen leaves in its right talons and a bundle of thirteen arrows in its left. These signify the preference for peace as well as the possibility of war. In the eagle's beak is a banner with the motto "E Pluribus Unum"-"Of the many is one". Above the eagle's head is the six-pointed Star of David-one star made with thirteen five-pointed stars. This is not the war eagle of Austria or Hitler's Germany. Instead, it is the fluttering eagle found in the book of Deuteronomy-representing the caring, saving presence of the Creator among His chosen. What a dynamic symbol of our Judeo-Christian beginnings.
"In the waste lands the Creator adopts him; in the howling desert of the wilderness. Like an eagle watching its nest, hovering over its young, He spreads His wings to hold him; He supports him on His pinions."
The dollar bill doesn't allow us to see the colors of The Great Seal, colors reminding us of our call to truth, justice, sacrifice, and equality under God.
Significantly, the large word "One" separates the sides of The Great Seal, and simultaneously reminds us that we are many who make one nation, one people of the Creator. Above it, the unifying assertion of faith, "In God We Trust."
As a veteran, I am struck with the fact that our nation's history is rich in faith in our Creator. It is from deep within the soil of this faith that the seeds of American patriotism have grown and flourished. Indeed, the seeds and the soil are inseparable.
Throughout history, veterans have been but instruments of our nation. These common men and women of uncommon courage and sacrifice became briefly the flesh and blood of The Great Sealof our fundamental beliefs and values. The served God and man; they served country; they sacrificed. These veterans have given their lives that we, and our way of life, might live on beyond them. "Greater love hath no man".
These honored dead, ironically referred to as our "Fallen comrades", have indeed earned our respectful memory. They deserve to be honored. But, they also deserve our awareness of the fundamental-and lasting-beliefs and values of the nation which they so unselfishly have served.
Let us, then, resolve here today "That these dead shall not have died in vain".
As we listen to, and are stirred by, "Taps", let us not look down at the earth-but upward to the heavens. For He who created has surely raised up those we honor "On eagle's wings". He surely guides them "On the breath of dawn", makes them "To shine like the sun", and holds them even now "In the palm of His hand."
Let us truly honor these dead by being caretakers of the seeds and soil of patriotism and faith.
They, our patriotic dead, could ask no more. We, the living, can do no less.
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