Let us hasten to remember those who served and in serving , who fell, that we who benefit from their sacrifice continue to walk proudly in the sunlight of liberty might endure in that glorious privilege unto our twilight years and beyond.
It is the last day in this, the month of May – a month that heralds the full bloom of summer, when the cold and dead winter is at last forgot. But for the necessity of memory, I would trouble you not to rouse yourself too hastily in remembrance of what has gone before you.
Of all things created there is always a beginning and our nation is no exception. From the streets of Boston to the fields of Concord we were schooled in the harsh, cold, reality of British rule and understood the time of choosing had come – and choose we did…to live free or die. And in the chaotic din of that struggle did I and others hasten to the hallowed cause of liberty.
Two hundred summers before you were born, I donned this uniform for the sake of a cause that a civilized world regarded as lost and a Mother Country reviled and scorned. I screamed my defiance in the face of that tyranny, resolved that I would sacrifice all for the sake of liberty…two hundred summers before you were born.
You do not know me, but long after I breathed my last, I knew all of you long before you took your first breath. All that was my past and all I hoped for in future life I pledged for your sake in the face of death – that you and your children might enjoy the greatest measure of freedom’s promise. In that cause I fought and with fervent hope for verdant pastures in future years, I and others made great sacrifices in many varied and painful ways: treasure and blood and sweat and tears for you, beloved posterity. Two hundred seasons later all I ask is that you remember me.
I perished at Lexington only to rise and fall again at Bunker Hill. I marched until I fell shivering in the bitter cold near Trenton and huddled closer still to dying campfire embers while blizzards buried Valley Forge.
At the Battle of Monmouth in hellish heat the wool of my uniform was soaked through with sweat and yet I had strength to fight at Cowpens and cheer George Washington at Yorktown Heights where we made the British taste the bitter gall of utter defeat.
On a November night my life was made hostage to a musket ball for the sake of a light far brighter and sweet than any that shone on human endeavor: I gave my life for your liberty and not simply for one year or a decade or even a century, but the duration of this glorious republic, where the shackles of tyrants nevermore rattle their fearsome refrain, for you will not ever let them do so. Here in America the freedom of one is the freedom of all.
Two hundred winters after the brilliant blue of the summer sky last shone its azure glory in my eyes, heirs of our noble cause wield the Stars and the Stripes and march to distant lands whose parched ground they water with the sweetness of their blood.
They – whose uniforms and weapons succeed my own in comfort and efficiency – trod with dignity and proud formation in my footsteps; their effort was made not for my sake or the others whose blood nourished the Liberty Tree, but for yours and your children’s and that of generations yet unborn who repose in its shade.
Two hundred years ago, when young men and old wore black and buff and red and blue and formed lines of battle straight and true until the order to fire was cried out, the chaos that ensued baptized a new order to succeed the old in a ritual as ancient as the earth where life was ended so life might continue in a place made far better than we had found it.
I am since become a ghost and have dwelt these twenty decades midst the stones that mark the fallen, emerging from spectral walls only briefly to glimpse the living and wonder if they hear the muffled moans of the dead and dying that echo in endless halls: Are they listening? Do they see?
‘Ere the sun in twilight splendor retires this very night, so too shall I and fade into the mists of a morning that two hundred winters ago yielded a crisp field of freshly fallen snow which embraced me for eternity and whence I return once more, but not before I beg of you, beloved posterity: Remember them when you remember me.
I extend to all in the armed forces of this republic my deepest and most profound gratitude for all you have done, are doing and will continue to do for as long as this nation – conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal – endures.