What follows is the speech I presented on Memorial Day.
And it is a good morning – because of those who have gone before us. It’s a good morning because our decision to gather here this morning is just one part of the freedoms that have been provided for us by heroes past. It’s a good morning because America is still the land of heroes proved. It’s a good morning because America is still the land of the free because of the brave.
On a day like Memorial Day it can be overwhelming when you stop and consider all the men and women who have gone before us. And of that number of Americans who have gone before us there is a small percentage who took up arms to defend our liberty and freedom. Of that number an even smaller percentage laid down their lives for our freedom.
Growing up in New England I used to ride my bike a few blocks from my house to a small cemetery. It was cool because there were gravel drives that meandered through the plots. I was only interested in setting my bike on the gravel and then jamming my peddle down for a quick take-off. If I did it right, I would shoot gravel all over the place.
On those rare occasions I would stop my gravel-scattering and look at some of the tombstones. Being New England, there were some old dates on these grave markers. Some were so worn that the information was hard to read. I used to wonder who that person had been. Some of the plots were no longer kept up. Did anyone come and visit them anymore? Were family still coming to lay flowers? Did anyone remember that they ever lived?
That’s what we’re doing here this morning – Remembering. Remembering those who laid down their lives so we could live ours. We are in their debt.
This morning at 7:00 a Boy Scout troop from Tracy went to the cemetery in their town and laid flowers by each gravesite of a fallen hero, and then read that person’s name aloud with a salute. I spoke to the Scout Master, who explained that ceremonies are often held in honor of the Unknown Soldier. This was different. They wanted to make sure that every known soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, Coast Guardsman, or merchant marine would be clearly remembered.
Yesterday at Woodward Park in Manteca, I was involved in the “Not Forgotten” ceremony. They reenacted what is done when a Marine has died in battle. They perform a roll-call, calling the person’s name aloud three times – Michael Anderson – Michael Anderson – Michael Anderson. When the individual does not roger up, the Marine’s rifle is then stuck into the ground, bayonet-end down. Then the boots are placed in front of the rifle. The helmet is placed on top of the rifle butt, with the Marine’s dog tags dangling from the top.
Thirty years ago I officiated at a funeral for a Marine veteran of World War I right here in this cemetery. I was pastoring a church in Fresno, and I was still a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. The next month I was commissioned a chaplain in the United States Navy. I admit, I don’t recall the location of the grave, nor do I recall the gentleman’s name.
Today there are 6,665 names on the wall of those who have died for our country since 9-11. They all have family, friends, and others who knew and loved them. They will be remembered for many years to come. Will future generations remember beyond that? I pray to God that they will.
But I want you to know this most of all. Your life is never forgotten. In fact, your name is always known – on into eternity – by God who loves you and values you more than you can ever know. Your name is ever on his heart and lips. You are precious in his sight. And even after all the graves are grown over and the tombstones are cracked and broken, God still loves you.
Jesus said these amazing words: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Those we remember here today loved their country, loved their families, and loved their friends, and willingly and lovingly laid down their lives for you and me.
God honors such sacrifice and, trust me, it will never be forgotten. Never!