They Shall Not Have Died in Vain
by THE HONORABLE ALLEN B. CLARK
May 28, 2012
Presented May 28, 2012 Memorial Day Ceremony at The Colony, Texas, sponsored by American Legion Holley-Riddle Post 21.
When asked several weeks ago to be your guest speaker, out came my stock Memorial Day speech presented several times. This year the decision was made to write a totally original new presentation and focus on a new approach as to the true significance of this extraordinary and exceptional day in the history of our country.
It has been my distinct privilege and pleasure to have in my background the opportunity to have served my country and my fellow veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs from 1989-1993 and for eighteen of those months to have been the Director of the National Cemetery System. The system consisted of 115 cemeteries and I personally visited 85 of them.
Once I drove for two weeks through the southern cemeteries and was overwhelmed with the gravesites of our Civil War casualties. There were even unmarked mass burial sites of those who died in prisoner of war camps. The experience is seared into the deep and dark recesses of my mind. Not all of the dead are buried in those cemeteries, but the casualty count was 618,222 with 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South, American brothers, sons, and fathers killing each other in that horrendous contest of bloodshed. Many were never even buried much less known by name.
Altogether nearly 1.2 million American patriots have died in defense of freedom. Memorial Day began as Decoration Day to honor our war dead and unfortunately decade after decade we have placed more of our valiant sons and daughters in our cemeteries, approximately 8,000 from our recent overseas wars. Today I desire to expand our tribute to all veterans who have served, but are now deceased, because they all offered themselves at one time in service that could have caused their sacrifice.
In President Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address he said these words, "The Almighty has His own purposes....Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
That bloodletting did eventually cease, but the treasured young heroes of our great land have been called to arms many times since and their blood has been spilled on many foreign shores. Our powerful land, blessed economically beyond compare in the history of the world, has expended its young and our resources in multiple causes for freedom all around the globe, to fight cruel and harsh dictators, oppressive regimes, and horrendous tyrannies.
We assemble on days such as this to honor our brave men and women...on days of sadness and yet days of triumph when we softly stand by their graves and consider their sacrifices so nobly offered on behalf of our free and grateful nation.
We grieve and honor them, but in an optimistic sense we must look ahead to the visions for which they gave their lives, freedom and justice. We must constantly question what we are doing in our personal and national lives to honor them and preserve the traditional values of this land they defended. Will we uphold standards, values, and virtues so that they will not have died in vain? Frankly I am very concerned about the condition of our land and our world.
It is easy to be very proud of this land. Powerfully have I been moved by my visits to the great cradles of liberty on our East Coast, Plymouth, Bunker Hill, Concord, Lexington, Independence Hall, Yorktown, where my ancestor fought. Not only was I moved by what happened there, but by what it represented for us. It was a desire to live free under God with virtue and integrity and morality.
How far away have we moved from those original ideals that brought forth this great America? You know as well as I that we have moved far afield. We honor the sacrifices of our dead most succinctly by upholding the original purposes and guidance and direction of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.
Historically there was a nation founded nearly three thousand years ago that was built upon a following of and a devotion to the Lord of all, our Creator God. It was ancient Israel. A New Jersey man of God, Jonathan Cahn, has written recently an incredible book titled The Harbinger in which he draws some very insightful parallels between that land and ours today. Students of Biblical history will recall that the original Godly standards of behavior and worship were slowly but surely removed from the land of ancient Israel. God's hedge of protection was removed due to their disobedience to His standards and Assyria took the northern part of Israel into captivity in 722 BC and Babylon took the southern part into captivity in 586 BC. The Assyrians were very militaristic and were ancient terrorists. They too were from the Middle East. Sound familiar? Israel followed God, but fell away and were judged.
Ladies and gentlemen, truly I believe our nation is in extreme danger of judgment due to our comparable falling away. We all know about the evils so prevalent in our society, the breakdown of morality, the instances of our leaders engaging in improper behavior, the drive for achievement at all costs, the deterioration of our families, and the deaths of the unborn.
Are we due for our own judgment as was Israel? Could it be that the September 11, 2001 attacks on our homeland by another group of terrorists from the Middle East is an indication of a lifting of our spiritual hedge of protection. That attack caused the burial of almost three thousand more and I am sure they are honored also on this Memorial Day. Within seven years by 2008 excesses and expressions of greed and selfishness in our high and mighty political and financial circles brought about the horrendous consequences exemplified by our economic debacle from which we are still suffering.
Our country is broken in so many places. I have personal experience with that. On June 17, 1967 it was my duty as an American Army captain to be assigned to Special Forces at Dak To "A" camp in Vietnam. An early morning enemy mortar barrage caught me in the open and a mortar round dropped eighteen inches to my left rear, severing traumatically my left leg below the knee with my right leg broken in five places. Only by the grace of God is there not in Arlington Cemetery today a plot for me to be honored. Also broken in spirit and soul, in the eighth month of my rehabilitation the pressures of Post Traumatic Stress caused a fourteen week stay in a closed psychiatric ward and psychiatrists and antidepressants for six years. However, in the middle 1970s I took stock of myself and got the big spiritual picture and realized it was a blessing to have been saved physically on that battlefield, but also realized through my Christian faith spiritually that I was saved and preserved for eternity. You all know this is not all there is on this troubled world in which we abide.
My body was rebuilt physically. The 200 stitches closed the wounds, the legs were made, and I walked out of Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio proud to have been a loyal soldier who performed my duty, but I was missing the spiritual rebuilding I required. Comparably so, it is my proposal to you that our country has rebuilt physically at Ground Zero in Manhattan. The question is where are we on the rebuilding of ourselves spiritually? What are each of us accomplishing to build our lives and those of our children and grand children to uphold high standards of ethical and moral behavior? What are we doing to hold our leaders to high standards? Of course it is preaching to the choir today for those of you here rather than barbequing, or sailing, or following a little white ball around the beautiful golf courses.
The true rebuilding we need personally and nationally after the horrendous attacks on 9/11 and those to our very financial and economic foundations are a call to turn our hearts to God, to humble ourselves, to examine who we are, how we act, what we do.
Again referring to this incredible book The Harbinger I was introduced to a little know fact of our nation's founding. I have always been a great admirer of General and President George Washington. Everyone places, appropriately so, great emphasis upon July 4, 1776 when our Declaration of Independence was signed. However there really is an even more auspicious date and that is April 30, 1789 when our esteemed and incredible Constitution and the actual establishment of the United States of America were accomplished. Now pay close attention to these words spoken by our first president at his inaugural. Let them sink in as to their true significance as to the founding principles of this land. He said:
"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency....It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes." Will it surprise you to learn that these words were spoken by President Washington as he took the oath of office right across the street from what is today the New York Stock Exchange the scene of our financial decline right after 9/11 and repeated in September 2008? Amazing how some things come full circle. Our nation was officially established in New York City across the street from the financial center of the world.
Now at a time in America when faith was preeminent and we were not bound so much by the ridiculous examples of political correctness and so-called fear of "separation of church and state", what do you think happened next? Did President Washington take a break to return to Mount Vernon? No way!
He led the leaders of our nation to a little stone church close by, St. Paul's Chapel, for a prayer service to consecrate our future and our people in a sacred service. Guess what space is across the street from this still-standing place of worship? It is Ground Zero the land of which was originally owned by the church. He also said that day: "The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself hath ordained." God did not smile on Israel and judgment came to them. God did not smile on us on September 11, 2001 right across the street from St. Paul's Chapel. Could that have been our call to repentance and a changing of our hearts collectively and personally?
Our young patriots buried in foreign and homeland soils represented the great power and might of America, the great and overpowering economic and military might. They died for something special. The real power of our country always must be our spiritual power, our faith in our Lord. Without that we too may be finally judged. It is our responsibility to assure our dead did not die in vain. We must protect and defend that for which they sacrificed their lives.
I close my remarks this day with the words penned in 1915 by Laurence Binyon:
They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We will remember them.
Thank you. May God bless you and may we bless Him.
The Honorable Allen B. Clark has a lay ministry to combat veterans described at www.combatfaith.com. His gautobiography is Wounded Soldier Healing Warrior. His second book will be published in June 2012 and is titled Valor in Vietnam: Chronicles of honor, Courage, and Sacrifice 1963-1977.