This morning, I spoke at a Memorial Day Remembrance and Celebration at the Forum at Park Lane in Dallas. This is home for a wonderful group of people, and they showed up dressed in patriotic colors; red, white, and blue filled the room. And the Activities Director, Ellis Paddack, planned a wonderful hour, during which I spoke, and Gary Poe played the piano and led the residents in a sing-a-long.
An especially poignant moment came when Gary Poe played Taps right after I described a brief history of the song’s use in military funerals.
There are two days that we set aside to especially remember those who fought for our country. One, Veterans Day, is for all veterans. But this one, originally called Decoration Day, is to remember those who gave their “last full measure of devotion.”
I read excerpts of the Gettysburg Address, and the speech given by Colonel Chamberlain from the movie Gettysburg (based on a true
account), and an account of the Battle of Midway by Ben Bradlee in the wonderful compilation Defining a Nation edited by David Halberstam.
And here are some of the other readings I shared:
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776 – The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
from the floor of the Second Virginia Convention being held at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.
Patrick Henry, March 3, 1775
We shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave… The war is inevitable – and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
Captain John C. Tidball, West Point Class of 1848, started the custom of playing “Taps” at military funerals. In early July 1862 at Harrison’s Landing, a corporal of Tidball’s Battery A, 2nd Artillery, died. He was, Tidball recalled later, “a most excellent man”. Tidball wished to bury him with full military honors, but, for military reasons, he was refused permission to fire three guns over the grave. Tidball later wrote, “The thought suggested itself to me to sound taps instead, which I did. The idea was taken up by others, until in a short time it was adopted by the entire army and is now looked upon as the most appropriate and touching part of a military funeral.” As Tidball proudly proclaimed, “Battery A has the honor of having introduced this custom into the service, and it is worthy of historical note.”
Eternal Father, strong to save – 1860, William Whiting,
Eternal Father was the favorite hymn of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was sung at his funeral in Hyde Park, New York, in April 1945. It was also played by the Navy Band in 1963 as President John F. Kennedy’s body was carried up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Roosevelt had served as Secretary of the Navy and Kennedy was a PT boat commander in World War II.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep.
Oh hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea! Amen.
Happy Memorial Day!