Hundreds of Antioch and East County residents gathered at the Oak View Memorial Park, Monday morning, to honor those military men and women who had sacrificed their lives for our freedoms, during the annual Memorial Day commemoration.
The morning’s event began with a motorcycle procession from Antioch City Hall, led by the Knights Palladin.
Local veteran J.R. Wilson served as Master of Ceremonies, and Pastor Chris Williams of the Church at Antioch offered the opening and closing prayers.
The American Legion presented the colors, and the American and POW/MIA flags were raised, then lowered to half staff.
Casey Ferrier of Boy Scout Troop 450 and a friend led in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a rousing rendition of the National Anthem by Velma Wilson, to which the audience sang along.
Major General Dan Helix, of the U.S. Volunteers Honor Guard, was the guest speaker, offering an overview of the sacrifices made in the various wars, throughout American history.
That was followed by a performance by the Deer Valley High Marching Band, offering portions of the songs from each of the various military branches. As each song was played, the veterans of that branch stood and received a warm round of applause.
Velma Wilson then led in the singing of God Bless America, followed by the sounding of Two Bells and the Placement of the Roses on the 9-11 Memorial by representatives of the Antioch Police and Contra Costa Fire Departments.
Mayor Wade Harper and Henri Vellieux, Commander of the Antioch VFW Post then placed a wreath at the memorial to all those from Antioch who had died in wars.
Jean Espinosa of Boy Scout Troop 450 played taps on his trumpet to close out the ceremonies.
Thank you all very much. Mr. Mayor and Council members…honored guests…and fellow citizens: what an honor it is to speak to you on this occasion, and what a privilege it is to have worn one of the uniforms of my country, as many of you here have as well.
Placing of the Wreath by Mayor Wade Harper and VFW Post Commander Henri Villeaux
For more than a century and a half, Americans have gathered on this day to remember those who were lost and that which was gained. Memorial Day is a day when celebration and sadness walk hand in hand. I have heard that celebration is the wrong word to use, but commemoration is more appropriate. It is the day our nation has set aside to remember, reflect and honor our service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country whether in battle, in support of combat operations, or even those who were doing the job of ensuring the peace. In short, today is a day about remembering those who died for our freedom - pure and simple.
As Kasey Pipes, then a Navy LT, later a speech writer for the White House, remarked on the occasion of Memorial Day some years ago, “The actions of those patriots are far more eloquent than any words I can offer.”
Places like Bunker Hill and Guadalcanal, Little Round Top and the Ia Drang Valley, the courageous heroes who fought and died wrote new chapters in the story of freedom.
When he dedicated the battlefield at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln spoke of the inadequacy of words on occasions such as these: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
And so it is with us today. The eloquence of words cannot match the power of the sacrifices made by so many. We honor them. We praise them. We remember them.
And we do something else also: we acknowledge that their struggle—the ancient struggle to be free—goes on today. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, that when put together as a whole produce a picture, so too all the battles in our history are connected to the larger struggle for freedom for all men and women.
It has been the citizen volunteer soldier who has fought the wars of this country. The first piece of the puzzle was set in place when the first musket was fired at Concord, Mass. They all showed up to fight: farmers, students, craftsmen, and clerks - they answered the call.
Then in 1812 a British armada came down from Canada to sack and burn Washington D.C. and attack Baltimore, guarded by Ft. McHenry. The fort held through the bombardment inspiring Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” and the British abandoned their Western outposts and what was then the Northwest was ceded to the United States.
After that the Mexican war, which became a metaphor for the triumph of will, determination and a belief in Manifest Destiny that demonstrated the continuing of the indomitable American spirit that demands freedom even today.
Slavery was the issue of the 1860’s and it divided our nation. The Civil War began with the firing on Ft. Sumter, South Carolina. The Battle Hymn of the Republic clashed with Dixie in a prolonged and tragically bloody war. Johnny (eventually) came marching home and the Union was preserved.
The next piece of the puzzle was set in place during World War I, when we fought “over there”. The doughboys experienced the hell of mustard gas and trench warfare. Because of our fighting men America became a player onto the world stage. We showed that a democracy, in the right circumstances can be imbued with the soul of battle and turn the horror of killing to a higher purpose of demanding that nations be allowed to live in freedom.
December 7th 1941 the date that has lived in infamy, “Remember Pearl Harbor” was the rallying cry that mobilized an outraged nation. American blood was spilled in both the European and Pacific Theaters of war. Finally, in 1945, on May 8th in Europe and August 14th in Japan, Germany and Japan surrendered unconditionally and an entire nation, on bended knees, gratefully thanked God for what would be called the Greatest Generation.
They were the citizen soldiers with an ethical zeal who became the most ruthless of men and endured murderous seasons. When the war ended they melted anonymously back into the culture of the peacetime democracy that produced them. They were the volunteers who evinced the soul and spirit of the warrior.
On a little known Korean Peninsula, situated between the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan, Thousands of Americans would die as the surrogates of our being unprepared. Dog faced soldiers and Marines thrown into combat on the Pusan Perimeter, and were welcomed to the war with 21 bullets and three hand grenades. With the heroic fighting breakout by the U.S. Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, the phrase Retreat Hell would become two words separated by a comma. America demonstrated that we would shed blood fighting to repel invaders who espoused a morality fundamentally repugnant to our own. Officially there were 36,261 KIA, an average of 980 Combat deaths per month during that “conflict”.
The courageous men and women who fought in Vietnam, fought a war, in a time and place no one really understood. These men and women knew only one thing – they were called and they went. They were needed and they were there. That, in the truest sense, is why we are here today. That is the Spirit of America. The more we understand it, the more we honor those who kept the spirit alive. 58,000 of America’s finest paid the ultimate price.
Another piece of the puzzle was put in place with Desert Shield/Desert Storm. As a nation, we learned to better express our appreciation for those men and women who stand in harm’s way. A new generation of precision guided munitions convinced Saddam Hussein his attempt to annex Kuwait would not be tolerated.
In Bosnia and Kosovo we found timid leaders can be more concerned about their political image than the security of those they send into harm’s way. We must insist that we never let our troops get involved with a foreign country where America’s power is not totally involved. Some of you will know from where this comes, but there is a saying that half measures availed us nothing.
The suicide bombings of the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11/2001 made it clear that America was at war with terrorists. Our past involvement in Iraq contributed to the courage displayed by the Iraqi people in passing that nation’s first test of democracy, and we pray our current involvement in Afghanistan will prove to have a similar effect.
What we now know is this: the that first time an American combat soldier knelt down to laugh and visit with a group of Iraqi children, he did more to help our world than all the billions spent by the United Nations. We are honored to have some of these veterans here with us today, along with their Blue Star Moms and Dads. And since I mention the Mom’s and Dad’s I would be remiss to not recognize our Gold Star Families – Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents. Whether they personally ever put on a uniform or not, their service must be seen as the most selfless, sacrificial and patriotic service of all. We know none of them ever aspired to or desired that, but in the end that is the case. We are sure none of them ever wanted that, but in the end they are the patriots with the most skin in the game short only of those who paid the ultimate price, their loved ones. I will tell you, Gold star families while we can never know the full extent of your loss, we share that loss, we grieve that loss and we honor the sacrifice with gratitude that we live in a free United States today. Jesus Himself said there can be no greater sacrifice one can make than to die for another. And so through the years and wars, Americans have never ceased to honor those who gave all.
We need a special salute to all those who served during the Cold War that raged from 1945 – 1991. There were plenty of clashes. The Iron Curtain in Europe, the Bamboo Curtain in Asia, the missile crisis, thankless battlefields in Grenada and El Salvador, descending into the Heart of Darkness in the Congo and the hot battlefield of Angola. Thousands of Americans in uniform died outside war zones from hostile and non-hostile causes. We remember and honor our fallen brothers and sisters. We learned sad lessons from the fiascos in Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti. Don’t spout the rhetoric if you’re not willing to back it up.
The troops around the world today are the direct descendants of the troops that crossed the Potomac and landed on D-Day . The battle fronts may be different. The weapons may have changed. But the fight is the same. We know that to protect our freedom at home we must promote freedom throughout the world.
In that spirit, let me take a moment and briefly talk about the world we live in. First, we are fighting a global war that will last for many years and require many assets. We fight an enemy that is evil but effective, deadly, and despicable. We cannot underestimate this enemy or the new world in which we live.
We now live in the most interconnected world in history. Consider its impact. Globalization means a businessman in New York can have his U.S. income taxes prepared in India. Globalization means a farmer in Japan can sell his produce in Maryland. And globalization means that from Florida to the Philippines…from Tacoma, Washington to Tokyo, Japan…goods, services and people are flowing more freely and more directly than ever before.
Trying to hold back this trend is like standing on the beach and trying to hold back the waves. It can’t be done. We can’t turn it back. Nor should we want to. The future is coming whether we plan for it or not. And for the most part, these are all very positive developments for the region and the world.
But while globalization brings many opportunities, it also presents some obstacles. We must be aware and we must be alert. We saw the dark side of globalization on September 11, 2001. Travelers from another country gained easy access to America, purchased plane tickets, and carried out the worst terrorist attack in American history.
No doubt about it—we now live in the post-9/11 world. No longer can we count on the good intentions of evil people. No more can we simply wait to be attacked. And that is exactly what the brave men and women of our armed forces are doing all over the globe right now: taking the battle to the terrorists.
Yes, we live in a different century filled with new challenges. But we are engaging it with a different Military focused on new capacities. And we have to be ready. The only times in our history where we have had to go fight, not just supply advisors and trainers, is not when we have had a lack of resolve or were technologically inferior, but when we have had a numerically weak Armed Forces. What military we have on watch today is ready for the future. This is where we need our young folks to step up and volunteer to be part of the deterrent and solution for this country. For you young folks, the military may not be for everyone, but if you feel up to the challenge – then take the challenge, your country needs you.
Almost 30 years ago, in his farewell address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan told the story of a sailor on the U.S.S. Midway. The sailor was on the deck one day as a small boat filled with Indonesian refugees approached. One of the refugees shouted out in a loud voice: “Hello, American sailor! Hello, freedom man!”
Today, the same refrain is heard throughout the world. From the survivors of the Natural Disasters to the villages of Afghanistan, wherever and whenever the people of the world see the military men and women of our country, they see the faces of freedom…they see the defenders of liberty…they see the ambassadors of hope.
Every day, Our United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard have the chance to make the world safer. And they can.
Every day, Our United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard have the ability to spread freedom. And they will.
Every day, Our United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard has the power to fight and destroy terrorists. And they must.
I believe we will win this battle. I believe we will preserve, protect, and promote freedom.
And as we continue to patrol the city streets and seas in support of missions throughout the world, I believe our military will do so in a way that respects its citizens here at home and honors our ancestors before us.
The greatest tribute we can offer to those who have died is to wave the banner of freedom proudly.
This Memorial Day and every day…
May we never forget those who died…
May we never fail to live up to their standard…
And may we never falter in our fight for freedom at home and abroad.
On this Memorial Day weekend, our thoughts and prayers are with all of those who are grieving. May we, as Abraham Lincoln said, “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.”
Finally, on this Memorial Day 2016 may God bless you all, may God bless our Service Members and Veterans, may God bless the families of our fallen and may God Bless America.