Memorial Day Tribute – It’s About Freedom!
Pawcatuck VFW – 1000H, Monday, May 31, 2021
The Hon. Robert R. “Rob” Simmons
Member of Congress, 2001-2007
Colonel, USAR, Retired
In December 1776, Thomas Paine said of the difficulties confronting General Washington’s military forces during the Revolutionary War, “These are times that try men’s souls.” And indeed, the times in which we are now living are “trying” times.
That being said, I believe the strength of a country and a culture is how it deals with adversity. And I give credit to the Pawcatuck VFW for holding this event today. You have not let the disrupting influences of a global pandemic interrupt the time-honored tradition of celebrating Memorial Day and honoring the memory of those who have died serving our great country in uniform.
Some confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day or Armed Forces Day; but they are not the same. On Veterans’ Day we specifically honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces in the past. On Armed Forces Day who honor those currently serving. On Memorial Day we honor all those who have died in combat while serving in the Armed Forces of our country.
Memorial Day grew out of a terrible war, a Civil War, a war that divided our nation, pitting brother against brother. Even before the war was over, there were instances of families in the South decorating the graves of their fallen loved ones on the battle fields where they died. That gave rise to the original name for this holiday which was “Decoration Day.”
The outcome of our terrible Civil War was a unified country which has guaranteed the blessings of liberty to its people for another 150 years; a freedom-loving nation that has been willing, in the words of President Kennedy, to:
“Pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Let me repeat part of what Kennedy said: “…to assure the survival and success of liberty.” Liberty!
On Memorial Day we celebrate the service and sacrifice of those who died in uniform fighting for liberty. A total of 666,441 American men and women have died in 81 wars from 1776 to the present.
But why did they die? What was it for? And the answer is simple. They died for Liberty; for Freedom.
This is the critical message for all of us here today because during this great pandemic, we have lost many of our liberties in the name of public safety.
Think about it. Our freedom of speech was limited by curtailing public events and closing public buildings. Our freedom of religion was curtailed by closing churches. The right of our children to a free public-school education was degraded by closing schools and relying on distance learning.
In Connecticut alone, over 600 restaurants were permanently closed and thousands of private sector jobs were lost due to government regulations about indoor and outdoor dining.
For 19 months the government told us to wear one, two or three masks; and now we are wearing none.
Our right to a representative government of elected peers in the US Congress and the Connecticut General Assembly was replaced by Presidents and Governors ruling by Executive Order.
Our 4th Amendment right to privacy was undermined with government SWAT Teams breaking into the private homes of political rivals like Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani.
Here today, on this Memorial Day, when we honor those who have died for our freedoms, we have decided not to have a public parade. Some said it was not safe.
Well, Bunker Hill was not safe. Gettysburg was not safe. Neither was the Argonne Woods and the D-Day landing in Normandy, France. The Chosen Reservoir in Korea was not safe, and speaking personally, the TET Offensive in Vietnam was not safe.
The fight for Freedom is NOT safe. It never is. We have fought for freedom around the world. Now we need to fight for it right here at home.
Let me add some thoughts for this Memorial Day Tribute.
Over one hundred and fifty years ago President Lincoln spoke at the consecration of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA, four months after the great Union victory there.
While he spoke briefly about the service and sacrifice of soldiers who had died there, he focused his attention on the living. And he said that it is up to us – to the living – to dedicate ourselves to the “unfinished work” of those who died for the “proposition that all men are created equal.”
Lincoln called for a “a new birth of freedom... so that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”
I place a special meaning on these words because the flu pandemic has NOT provided us with a “new birth of freedom.” Rather, government intervention in our lives, presumably for our own safety, has diminished our freedom in unprecedented ways.
So, the challenge for all of us from now until Memorial Day 2022, is to get back to normal. We must reopen our town, state and country so our people can enjoy their God-Given and constitutional liberties to live, work, speak, pray, vote and gather together once again as Free Citizens of this great country.
Will you join me in a pledge to hold our traditional Memorial Day Parade in Pawcatuck and Westerly next year? Great! Thank you.
As a veteran and a citizen, I thank you for taking a few moments out of your busy lives:
-- To attend this Memorial Day Tribute;
-- To love our country;
-- To respect its flag;
-- To honor our Constitution;
-- To celebrate the freedom it provides; and
--To recognize those who made the supreme sacrifice for our American values.
Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless America.