Win Harper | Life and Leadership Coach

Rushville Memorial Day Speech 2011

Thank you for the nice introduction.  Elizabeth and I are honored to be here.  You probably noticed as we rode in the convertible that I had a different wave than my wife.  She is from England and did the traditional Queen’s wave.  She is now a naturalized US Citizen, and I am very proud of her for that accomplishment.  She is carrying the flag that was presented to her at the Naturalization Ceremony.  We are both very proud to be Americans!!!!

Is this a great day or what!  This is a wonderful way to celebrate Memorial Day.  Everybody loves a parade, and I especially enjoy that we are together celebrating as a community!

As you know, to some Memorial Day is a day off from work and the unofficial beginning of the summer season, but it is more significant than that.  It is a time to honor our loved ones, our ancestors, and our friends who died in wars to protect our way of life.  Men and women from our community and every walk of life who took an oath to “support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  They made a commitment to us that they would protect our country and our way of life. Some of them paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and today we are here to honor them, and to remind ourselves that we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice. 

Men and woman from Gorham, Middlesex, and Rushville have always responded to the call of duty and our community has shared in our nation’s losses.  In the Rushville History Room on Main Street there is a Wall of Honor.  There hang the pictures of 519 local veterans who served our country.  The Wall is a sacred reminder of our community’s contribution to our Nation’s freedoms.  There is a special section of the wall that has pictures of those who died defending our country, and I want to mention a few of them: Many of the names you will recognize, and I am sure that they all have friends and relatives here today.

William and Edward Morgan – twins - the Civil War - Gorham
William Robson - WWI - Rushville
Julian Lafler - WWII - Middlesex
Gerald Gorton - during the Cold War - Rushville
Arthur Herod - Vietnam – Gorham
And, Joseph Valesko Jr. - Vietnam - Cottage City

I encourage you to visit our History Room and go the Wall.  Look at the faces of the Women and Men from our community who gave their lives for our freedom.  I also encourage you to walk through our local cemeteries; got to our war memorials and read the engravings – the dates of birth and death.  These young men and women were taken from us prematurely, but as a great man once said,  “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in the stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

When I was a young man growing up in New Castle, PA, I played on my church’s fast pitch softball team.  Just this past April I learned that one of my dear friends from that time, Mike Sikofilos died.  He was a US Navy veteran and the pitcher on the team.  In 1964-65 we were 50 – 4.  Mike delivered milk for Linger Light dairy.  Ollie Hoch who was a Navy Corpsman in Korea was on that team also.  Ollie was the janitor at a local school.  My dad was a Marine during WWII and became a car salesman, and many of my teachers and coaches were military veterans also.  They were my role models, my mentors; they helped me to become the man I am today.  Their legacy is woven into the fabric of my life.

In our community the men and women who served our country and returned became our mailmen, our doctors and lawyers, our teachers, our store clerks, our farmers, our parents, our friends.

I want to mention some of our local veterans who served our country and returned to serve our community and whose legacy is woven into the lives of others:  Men and Women like
Bruce Martin our senior veteran
Cheryl Vadner our Grand Marshal today.
Charles Holton MOH winner - Civil War Veteran from Potter (served with Custer)
John Lafler Civil War POW from Middlesex
Frank Rector WWI veteran from Potter
Thomas E Hegerty Jr. WWII Navy Cross winner from Middlesex
Earl H. Simonsen Korean War veteran from Rushville
Dave Johnson Vietnam veteran from Rushville
Chuck Whitback Iraq Veteran from Rushville

Their pictures and their information are on our Wall.

I believe a wall is a great symbol for our veterans:  it represents strength and protection.  A well-built wall separates us from danger.  This symbolism was used in one of my favorite movies:  A Few Good Men.  I liked the movie not just because it is about Marines, but for this one scene.  Demi Moore’s character is asked about the Marines she is defending in a court-martial:

Lt. Weinberg: Why do you like them so much?

Her reply is:
Galloway: Because they stand upon a wall and say, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”

The men and women on our Wall of Honor stood upon a wall, and said, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”

We have already recognized our veterans who are here today.  I would like to honor another group of individuals.  When I was a child there was a Pogo cartoon strip that had one frame; it showed a woman sitting by a fireplace at Christmas time and the caption read, “They also serve who only sit and wait!”  When I was in Vietnam 1967-68, I did not appreciate or understand what my friends and family experienced.  So today I would like to honor those who have served by staying behind and working hard to support their families, those who endured the hardship of not knowing if their loved one was returning, and who steadfastly kept their loved ones alive in their hearts; while patiently waiting for their family members, their friends, their loved ones to return home safely.  So if you are a family member a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, son, daughter or friend of a veteran please stand up or raise your hand so that we can see and recognize you!

Thank you for your service!

This year we lost our last surviving WW1 Veteran, and unbelievable we are losing over 1000 WW2 Veterans ADAY!  Ray Wager, a Korean War veteran who lives in Middlesex, and I are volunteers at the Canandaigua Veterans Administration Medical Center for the Veteran’s History Project—- The Project is sponsored by the Library of Congress and is aimed at collecting oral history interviews from veterans of World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present).  The interviews are recorded on a video camera.  A DVD is sent to the Library of Congress, the VMAC Library, and the veteran.  If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is interested in being interviewed please contact Ray or me.  I have brochures up here and I am available to talk about the project with you after the ceremonies.

For many of us veterans are bodies are no longer strong, we can’t run up and down hills as we did in our youths, and our uniforms may no longer fit, mine shrunk, but the values, discipline, and principles DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY – HONOR, COURAGE, COMMITMENT - we learned in the military still fit us. For some of us veterans our memories of those times long ago may have faded a bit, and some of our stories forgotten, but we remember why we served and we remember that the price of freedom is constant vigilance.  For all of us veterans we know that our time upon a Wall in some foreign and far distant land are over, but our spirit is strong and our dedication to our Nation’s way of life, and our desire to keep this country free and powerful pulses through our veins with every beat of our hearts.

While we are here to honor our war dead, we must not forget that as we celebrate this Memorial Day, and enjoy the festivities, the food, and the weather, there are young men and women who are standing upon “a wall” in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and in every clime and place defending our Nation, and our rights “to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The best and the brightest of our Nation, and of our community who are saying to us:  “Nothings will hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”  Regrettably some of them will pay the ultimate price for freedom.

And, in the future when the war clarion is sounded and the battle cry is heard, we will ask our young men and women to march towards the sound of gunfire and enter into harm’s way. And they will!  They will stand upon a wall as men and women have done for centuries, and they will say to us, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”  They will come once more from Gorham, Middlesex, and Rushville.  They will be our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters, our friends, and our community members. 

They will do their duty as millions of veterans have done for over 235 years.

You may be asking yourself, “What can I do?”  Those of us who are now serving by sitting and waiting can support our military men and women by pausing to remember their sacrifice.  You can also show your support by simply saying, “Thank you for your service” to the veterans you know or meet.  A lot of us can be recognized by the way we carry ourselves, the way we express ourselves, and our hats.  In addition, when you see a man or woman in uniform in Wegmans, at the airport, in a gas station, take a moment, stop them and say, “Thank you for your service.”  It will make a difference in their lives, your lives, and our community and Nation.

God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America.

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Copyright 2009 by Win Harper.