To be worthy of the sacrifice

By: Senator Joe Fain

Editor’s note: The following is the address delivered by state Sen. Joe Fain at the Tahoma National Cemetery Memorial Day program.

Thank you for the invitation to be with you this afternoon. It’s an honor to share the stage with Mike Gregoire and thank both him and his wife, Gov. Gregoire, for their extraordinary service on behalf of the people of Washington State and of our nation.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many of you today and one thing stands out. Each of you have come for a different reason.

Some of you have had your lives changed forever by the loss of a spouse or a parent or child who you are honoring today. Some of you fought and bled and eventually came home from war and are here to remember a friend who didn’t.

Still others are drawn to this occasion and to others like it across our country, not because you wore a uniform or lost someone who had, but because you feel the same obligation to take this day of pause and remembrance, to hold it and them as sacred, and to pass that belief on to the next generation.

We take this day to put these soldiers front of mind,  but the question we must ask ourselves now is: “How will we remember them, tomorrow?”

Collectively we ascribe some superhuman quality to the men and women who have died in service. Our popular culture and movies often portray soldiers with a clarity of mission, uncommon abilities and unimaginable resilience.

We all know that while there is actually much truth to these depictions, they often hide the greater truth about who these individuals were and what sparked their heroism.

No soldier takes to the field of battle to fight for themselves. Their heroism is fueled by commitment to an idea, and to the loved ones that this idea protects at home.

I was humbled when Carolyn McKinley invited me here to speak today. I asked her: What should I say? What should I share?

She said that I should recognize the anniversary of the war in Vietnam, and thank all those who served, those who died, and those at home who still feel a twinge of anxiety whenever the phone rings or the mail comes after months or years of not knowing what awful news might accompany those calls and letters.

She also said, no politics…

As obvious as this seemed at first, I now believe that there is no more appropriate time to talk about our political beliefs than on this day, and in this place.

Not the politics of the right versus the left or of Republicans and Democrats,  but the common philosophy of freedom, of individual rights, of democracy and rule of law that we all share; and that we all from time-to-time, take for granted.

We do not need to look far overseas to see what our present might look like had we at some point in our history abandoned those common beliefs. Perhaps even this solemn occasion where we publicly gather as one nation to celebrate and memorialize our fallen heroes would look quite different.

Instead it might have been replaced with small hidden vigils over the unmarked graves of peaceful protestors, of civil rights leaders, of government criticizers, of politicians and professors, of patriots and of everyday citizens.  Our values protect us in ways no weapon can.

My father is here today. After ROTC and several years active duty in the 1950’s he returned home to become what this nation asks of all it’s great young people, to become a teacher, and a coach, and a reservist, and a Rotarian, and a recruiter for Annapolis and a father.

How many that we celebrate today would have led similar lives of dedication and service had they only come home.

So how will we remember them tomorrow?  For some it’ll be a forgotten face peering back from a faded picture in a frame on a shelf.  Others it will be wrenching sorrow of a wound, fresh and unhealed.

How will we remember them tomorrow and justify their gift to us? By becoming that teacher, starting a business, by praying, volunteering, voting, speaking out against injustice, by doing all we must to help preserve this flawed and imperfect experiment that has helped preserve humanity for nearly 240 years, at such a great but worthy cost.

More will come here to rest before this journey is through.  They will come during times of peace and times of war; they will be young and old, men and women, they will be born American or will bear her uniform and be adopted through their service.  They give what Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion” and will join those who we honor here today.

May God bless them and their memories, may he bless each of you, and may he hold up our daily work to ensure that this nation is continually worthy of their sacrifice. Because this is how we will best remember them, tomorrow.