It is always an honor to stand before my constituents and address them about important matters, but even more an honor on a special day as this.
For you see, Memorial Day is a special day, a holy day in the experience of our nation. Yes, we honor our nation’s birth on Independence Day and that is significant.
Yes, we honor living members of our military on Veterans Day. Yes, we honor active duty military on Armed Forces Day.
But today, Memorial Day, we gather as a “Congregation of the Free” to remember as a group those members of our armed forces who have gone on to their reward.
Some of them went to their graves as a result of armed conflict on the battlefields of our long memory; Europe, The Pacific, Italy, North Africa, Korea. Some of you know of whom I speak.
Others succumbed to mortality in the swamps of Vietnam, the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, the jungles of Panama and other worldwide hotspots. Some of you know of whom I speak.
These are grandfathers, great-grandfathers, uncles, great-uncles, cousins and other family members who live on with us only in pictures or the stories of youth told by those left behind to support their efforts on the home front. Some of you know of whom I speak.
We also remember those who, by God’s mercy, returned to us wounded in body and spirit, many living out their lives in misery, not understanding the reason for their hardships, but victimized by their sacrifices. Some of you know of whom I speak.
Their own memories were scarred by the horrors they witnessed, many refusing to talk about what they saw and taking their own “memories” to their graves. Some of you know of whom I speak.
Others returned to reestablish lives, create families, build businesses, spread the faith that sustained them through the years of watching men perpetrate horrific acts of violence against each other and to teach their children about the greatness of America.
Our “Greatest Generation” that saw 16,000,000 men and women in uniform (a full 20% of our adult population) gave way to a new “Generation” that lost 58,000 in the jungles of Southeast Asia to the newest “Greatest Generation,” an all-volunteer force, the best-educated and best-equipped in the history of the planet.
Regardless of the decade, today in this solemn assembly we pause to remember those who served us who are gone on. In this moment, you may choose to close your eyes to visualize the faces of your family members, friends, neighbors, former employees, church members, students.
Perhaps that visual is an old black-and-white photo of an Easter Sunday, all-dressed-up picture where you remember the last time you saw or spoke to the one who is now missing.
Perhaps it is a staged school class picture, marked up at a later date with the names of those lost with the year they passed. Perhaps it is a wedding photo, where a husband went off to war, never to return.
Perhaps it is a stack of letters, tattered by years of unfolding, especially the one received after the news of that loved one’s loss on a battlefield thousands of miles away. Perhaps it is the closet still filled with the clothing of one who passed that still bears the smell of our loved one.
All these prove to us how powerful memory is, how important it is that we not minimize it, and how healing it is that we gather in this moment to recognize those whose actions continue to provide the freedom we enjoy.
Perhaps your loved one served the nation at a time devoid of conflict. We gather here to also observe the memories of those who still took that sacred oath and stood ready to engage any force that threatened the homeland.
Whichever conflict your loved one served in, or whether they served the nation in the absence of conflict, this day is their day. And please, while we honor all who serve and remain with us today, we will gather again on November 11 and honor them. On that day, they will be able to experience our appreciation while they live.
But today, for this moment, we pause to catch that visual reminder, watch an old home movie, thumb through a family Bible, or take our children or grandchildren through a tattered scrapbook, or stand silently at a final resting place.
Those who put self aside, who traveled far from home and endured the loneliness of separation and who endured numerous hazards; all for those of us standing here today within the sound of my voice.
We remember you. We salute you. We honor you. And we search for the same character that you modeled before us.
May God bless them. May God bless us. May God bless our nation.
As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas, concerns, and suggestions during the second half of the 111th General Assembly.