“The Prize of Freedom”
Could anything be more contradictory than the lives of our soldiers? They love America, so they spend long years in foreign lands far from her shores. They revere freedom, so they sacrifice their own that we may be free. They defend our right to live as individuals, yet yield their individuality in that cause. Perhaps most paradoxically of all, they value life, and so bravely ready themselves to die in the service of our country….
But why are we so seemingly willing to fight and, if need be, to die? The answer to that question is as simple — and yet as complex — as the soul of America itself. We fight because we believe. Not that war is good, but that sometimes it is necessary. Our soldiers fight and die not for the glory of war, but for the prize of freedom. The words of the philosopher John Stuart Mill say it best: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight; nothing he cares more about than his own personal safety; is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free….”
And, the heart of America is freedom, for ourselves and all nations willing to fight for it. Yes, the price is high, but freedom is a wealth no debt can encumber.
So, we choose to remember the past because the payment for forgetfulness is dear — sacrifice, service, duty … and many times, injury and death paid by gallant, heroic men and women. Only fools would elect to forget so expensive a lesson….
… [C]ourageous men and women, each so different in heritage and background, shared the common bonds of the armed forces — duty and sacrifice. All of them reached a moment in their lives when race and religion, creed and color made no difference. What remained was the essence of America — the fighting spirit of a proud, valorous people. They are soldiers who paid the price for freedom.
As we remember these brave warriors and their comrades in arms on this Memorial Day, we must look to the future as well as the past. In today’s world, freedom comes cloaked in uncertainty. America still relies on her sons and daughters to defend her liberty. The cost of independence remains high, but we are willing to pay it. We do not pay it gladly, but we pay it with deep reverence and thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives for America. We know that in the years to come, more brave souls will sacrifice their lives for America. We include them in our thoughts and prayers today.
Memorial Day Speech, Deborah Parker, May 26, 1997