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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following address was delivered during Monday’s Community Memorial Day ceremonies at the Trimble County Courthouse by the Rev. Tom Starks, Pastor of Milton Baptist Church. Rev. Starks served in the United States Coast Guard from 1992-1996.
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. Let me first say I am absolutely humbled and honored to be in the very presence of so many veterans, heroes and their families. Thank you for your service and all the sacrifices you and your families have made to keep America free and preserve our way of life.
It is a truly special day of remembrance because it is the one forged in the blood of over 1,314,000 American military lives. That is the number of Americans who have died in the various conflicts that gave birth to, and have sustained, our great nation.
Allow me to put that in some sort of perspective:
•That’s larger than the current population of 10 of our 50 states.
•That’s more people than live in either San Diego, CA or Dallas, TX.
•That’s 130 times the size of the population of Trimble County.
•And every single one of those lives mattered to someone, and especially, to all of us. Each number has a story. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Each and every one of them gave their all! In this large number 35 of them came from Trimble County.
We’re gathered on this beautiful Monday morning in relative safety and peaceful tranquility. When this service ends, we’ll leave and go home to our families. Our biggest worry is how many pieces of fried chicken we’ll eat for lunch, when we’ll take our afternoon nap and probably what to watch on TV.
At this very moment, halfway around the world in some of the most desolate places you can ever imagine, Americans are fighting and dying in the name of freedom. Whether you personally feel it or not, whether you personally support it or not, your country is at war and we’ve asked these men and woman to carry a heavy burden for us.
There are still some who think we should have done nothing after 9/11 and many are very vocally opposed to any military action. Herein lies the beauty of America – you can disagree peaceably if you so choose. Our own Constitution guarantees those freedoms of expression and assembly. But it is important to remember what Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, a USMC sergeant, once wrote:
“It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag who allows the protester to burn the flag. “
Yet, despite what some think, peace and safety can’t just be hoped for. You can’t simply smile, shake hands, make eloquent speeches and expect the rest of the world to embrace us in a big group hug. Sometimes, you have to step up to the plate and sacrifice, and in the world we live in, that sometimes means Americans have to fight and often die in the name of freedom. That’s our reality. That’s just the world we live in.
Our best hope is to make our current and future enemies understand how devastating it can be to attack America or our friends or even threaten our way of life. We have to deal with our enemies from a position of strength. That’s all they understand or respect. And we have to deal with them before they strike us. It’s much better to do that on their soil, rather than letting them come to ours.
Because this beloved flag of ours is the symbol of all that is good about this country.
That’s right. America is good because America is more than a place; America is an idea. It is an idea lived, and fought for, by a people. We are America, and this flag is our symbol. We may be imperfect in many ways, but we continue to strive toward the same ideals our forefathers laid down for us over 230 years ago. And despite our problems, we are the greatest beacon of freedom, charity, hope and opportunity the world has ever known.
My father told me that as he patrolled the jungles of Vietnam, he knew once he could see the Stars and Stripes he knew he would be safe. You and I today have that same security; as long as she always flies we too will be safe.
United under this flag, this nation, this melting pot of humanity, this free republic, must be preserved. This idea that is America is important enough to be defended, fought for and even died for.
Our enemies will never understand our society, but they should understand this; once threatened, we will act decisively; once attacked, we will bandage our wounds, we will bury our dead; and then we will come for you, and we will destroy you and all you stand for.
The Apostle Paul writes “We are pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” That is from II Corinthians. You see, because of today and those who fight and those who died fighting I have the freedom to quote the Bible in a public forum. I can talk about my God and my Savior Jesus Christ to all those who will hear. I have the freedom to do as I choose as long as it lawful. Why? Because these Heroes of our country believed in a land of freedom! They believed in it so much they gave us the ultimate gift, their life!
In tribute to those service members who have served and those still enduring incredible hardships so we can continue our comfortable daily lives, I’d like to close with a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V:
“Whoever does not have the stomach for this fight, let him depart. Give him money to speed his departure since we wish not to die in that man’s company. Whoever lives past today and comes home safely will rouse himself every year on this day, show his neighbor his scars, and tell embellished stories of all their great feats of battle. These stories will teach his son and from this day until the end of the world we shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for whoever has shed his blood with me shall be my brother. And those men afraid to go will think themselves lesser men as they hear of how we fought and died together.”
Tonight when you go home, I challenge you to pray a prayer. Even if you have never prayed a prayer before, now is the time to start! Thank God for our country and those who have died for it. Ask God to continue to guide our country and to give our leaders wisdom. Ask God to protect those who are fighting for our freedom this very day. Whereever you go from here remember as a country, the United States of America, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Thank you, and may God bless you!