by Rep. Julio Gonzalez
(From a speech Florida Rep. Julio Gonzalez delivered at the 2017 Memorial Day Ceremony at Sarasota National Cemetery.)
Fellow veterans, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to address you on this most sacred and solemn occasion.
“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
These are arguably the most famous last words uttered by a patriot in faithful service to his country. Of course, these particular words were uttered by Nathan Hale, a soldier in Washington’s Revolutionary Army, when he was captured by the British and prepared to be hanged. And let’s recall who Nathan Hale was. He was a graduate of Yale University. He was a teacher. He was barely 22 years old with all his life ahead of him, and he volunteered, not only to serve in the militia, but to go on his mission.
But his were by no means the only last words.
Some have said, “Tell my wife I love her.”
Others said, “Take care of my kids.”
And still others said, “I’ll go.”
And, of course, there are countless men and women who died in service to this great nation who never even had the opportunity to share with us their final thoughts. Men and women who paid the ultimate price in the Middle East, at the World Trade Center, in the jungles of Vietnam and Korea, in the fields of Europe during World War II, and World War I with its trenches and all its atrocities, in the Pacific theater, during the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, among so many other wars and battles in our history.
Never forgetting those who gave all
Today, we take a moment to honor those patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of us may live free and so that our way of life may long endure.
I tell you, it is small wonder that this nation that prides itself on its reverence to the liberties and rights of each and every member of society has given rise to the greatest fighting force known to man. And I can assure you that the strength of our armies lie not in our accumulation of expensive equipment, or in our collection of gallant ships, or even in our war birds that are able to stealthily fly through the night.
No. The greatest asset of our fighting force is the fine collection of selfless men and women who, despite knowing that theirs is a journey from which they may never return, volunteer to undertake it nevertheless
And they did it for us!
These men and women put it all on the line, not because they hated what lay before them, but because they loved what stood behind them. They knew they were fighting for something so incredible; so magnificent, so unique, that it stood as an ideal that was worth sacrificing anyone’s life. They sacrificed because they knew that upon these United States of America laid humanity’s greatest hope. They knew that they were part of a great experiment that redefined the relationship between man and government, and they knew that it was an experiment that cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to fail.
And with stakes as high as these, can we ever allow their deaths to go in vane?
Honor by teaching our children
As we remember and reflect upon the great and varied sacrifices our servicemembers have made for us throughout our history, let us resolve to not allow their efforts to fade into posterity. Let us acknowledge that it is not enough for us to remember their courage, their selflessness, and their sacrifice. If we are truly to honor their lives, and their deaths, then we must also pick up their bayonets and continue their march where they left off.
Let us teach our children the meaning of their actions and the reasons for their sacrifices. Let’s remember that there are so many things greater than ourselves; things like our faiths, our families, and our country, and that none of these will long survive unless we are willing to fight, and yes, die, for their continued existence. Let us undertake each and every act as if the legacy of these fighting men and women depended on the success of each of our actions, because I assure you that they do.
And let us resolve to continuously strive to serve as the great example for others to emulate and to recognize the great potential of a nation resigned to promote peace, even if such a peace means having to reluctantly pick up a sword.
If we do this, if we succeed in spreading love and justice to the rest of the world through our actions through our thoughts, through our government, and through our way of life, then the last words of General Robert McCormick who died in the hope of keeping a nation untied will remain fulfilled: “[that] the loss of ten thousand such lives as yours and mine would be nothing if their sacrifice would but save such a government as ours.”
May God keep every one of those who sacrificed for the benefit of our great nation close to Him; May He bless each one of us here assembled, and may God bless these United States of America.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and serves in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.
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