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EDITOR’S NOTE: Meeker native Tony Seely, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, gave this speech on July 4, 2013, during the dedication of the Rio Blanco County Veterans Memorial on the front lawn of the Rio Blanco County Courthouse in Meeker. As we approach Veterans Day on Nov. 11, we deemed it appropriate to print Seely’s speech, which explains, in his words, what it means to honor veterans past and present, men and women, those who were killed in the line of duty and those who survived while providing their service to the United States of America.
RBC I Well, let me start by saying, thank you for the opportunity to say a few words and that it is an incredible privilege and honor to serve with so many of you here today. And what a great time to dedicate this beautiful memorial…Not only is it a spectacular day, this is the time of the annual Range Call pilgrimage, where so many of us religiously journey back to pay homage to the annual 4th of July parade, rodeo and pageant. It really is a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends while we celebrate the birth of our nation.
Special thanks also, to the VFW, especially (sculptor) John Kobalt, Joe Duggan and David Cole for lining me out for this event.
So why do we make such a big deal about these memorials and dedications?
After spending a total of eight and a half years stationed in Europe…I have to admit, the Europeans do know how to do monuments although John’s work here is definitely giving them a run for their money. Every town we visited seemed to have a significant WWI memorial in the town. There are also an abundance of WWII monuments. The military cemeteries are remarkably well maintained and almost incomprehensible when contemplating the landscape of tomb stones.
But World War I started 99 years ago, 28 July, 1914. Why continue to spend so much time and effort on these relics of the past?
Here in the U.S., Gettysburg has one of the largest collections of outdoor sculptures in the world. There are more than 1,300 monuments from both the Union and the Confederate persuasions scattered across that fateful battlefield.
But why do we strain to keep the fading memories alive?
It was in his book, “Reason in Common Sense,” where George Santayana coined the famous phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Well, lest we forget, let’s briefly remind ourselves about the cost of war. Disregarding the fiscal price tag, what was the human cost of America’s wars?
Let’s start with World War I. How many Americans were killed? Nearly 117,000 – 116,708.
How about World War II? Almost four times that number. More than 407,000.
The Korean War? 33,000! Did you remember that? How quickly we forget.
Many of you probably know the Vietnam number? There were 58,000 killed; equivalent to the population of Grand Junction; and 153,000 wounded.
And, finally, what about our current conflict in the Global War on Terrorism, which includes operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn? As of July 1, 6,713 have been killed and 51,104 wounded. That is 6,700 dead!
That’s the equivalent of every man woman and child in Rio Blanco County.
Ninety-nine of those casualties were from Colorado, along with 782 of the wounded.
The Global War on Terrorism is a current event, yet, how soon we forget!
So our memorials are meant to help us remember our national sacrifice; the men and women who paid the ultimate price.
For, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
And what about the personal sacrifice? Our memorials should remind us of not only those who gave their very lives, but also of the men, women and their families who have given up more domestic hopes and dreams to serve their country.
In the previous list of statistics, I didn’t even mention the war where America lost the most people: The Civil War. It claimed the lives of more than 625,000 Americans. And I don’t think anyone addressed the personal sacrifices better than Abraham Lincoln in his most famous address at Gettysburg, a single battle that claimed the lives of 51,000 soldiers.
I’ve adapted it slightly and won’t read it all, but the last paragraph says it best:
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this [memorial]. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here, dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Nov. 19, 1863.
Remember also, the families behind the men and women who gave their all. The spouses who are suddenly left without a breadwinner, children left without a parent. Or maybe the service member is wounded and his family provides dedicated care for the rest of his life.
We must never forget the tremendous sacrifice and dedication from the families that support our service members.
In our own community, there are many families and service members who have made extreme sacrifices for their love of country. Every veteran has a story, but I’m always amazed to hear the remarkable accounts of dedication and sacrifice from members of Rio Blanco!
And now I have to ask, “Was it worth it?” Looking at America today, contemplating the challenges we face, would the veterans and families that made these sacrifices, be satisfied with what they fought for? Was it worth all the pain and suffering they endured to defend this liberty? I’m going to read the last two paragraphs of an Independence Day speech that President Calvin Coolidge delivered almost 90 years ago, then I’m going to ask our veterans to consider the oath they took when they began their military service.
On July 5, 1926, at the height of the Roaring Twenties, and not long before the Great Depression, Calvin Coolidge wrapped up a rather lengthy dissertation called, “The Inspiration of the Declaration of Independence.” These last couple of paragraphs are particularly applicable to where America finds itself today.
Talking about the Declaration’s and the Constitution’s framers, our former president said:
“Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action that have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions, we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thought which they thought. Their intellectual lives centered around the meeting house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they know or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures.
Over a period as great as that which measure the existence of our independence, they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.
“No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.”
“And finally, a call to action: What are the solemn words every U.S. Service Member swears to when they volunteer to serve their country? We raise our right hand and we say, “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend…’ What? ‘The Constitution of the United States.’”
Not liberty, not America, not the president.
The Constitution of the United States.
Support and defend it against what?
“Against all enemies, foreign and domestic and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars keeps alive the flame of those who have fought overseas, and they do an amazing job of bolstering American patriotism through heightened awareness of those foreign wars.
But what of those enemies we call domestic?
Let me ask you, did you ever “untake” that oath? Did you ever stop believing that defending the Constitution was an endeavor worth taking very seriously?
America is under attack and, unfortunately, it’s not as obvious as the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is an attack from within, and the enemies are in plain sight, but not recognized. The enemy is every politician and every special interest that undermines the rights and liberties of the U.S. Constitution for their personal agenda.
They are a domestic enemy, a cancer that must be met as soon as they are recognized, which itself requires a discerning eye.
And that is what I’m asking you to do. Even though you’re not currently wearing the uniform, maybe you never have and never will, but:
• Watch for the skirmishers and whenever you recognize an attack on our Constitution, defend it! Big or small fight, defend it.
• Souls must be tested, fears must be overcome!
• Return fire! Write your representatives, attend their meetings and contribute to organizations that are fighting back.
• Self-government is difficult and every good citizen must do something!
• America needs to wake up! We need to wake up before all of the sacrifice, all of the selfless dedication, all of the suffering that has gone before, is squandered.
Use this memorial as a reminder. Let it remind you of the national sacrifice, the thousands of lives lost or disrupted in our various wars. Let it remind you of the personal sacrifice of the service members and their families in this community. Let it remind you that you took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
There are many battles yet to be fought! As the VFW Post 5843 motto goes, “Failure is not an option!”
God bless you. God bless America, and may this memorial have a positive, lasting impact on the future of America!
By Tony Seely
Major, U.S. Air Force retired