Every year on Veterans Day, the VFW Pat Hannon Post 4666 and American Legion George C. Evans Post 103 hold a service to honor past and present veterans at the World War II Memorial in Ketring Park.
The following speech was written and delivered by Mayor Debbie Brinkman at the Veterans Day service on Monday, November 11, 2013
First, I want to thank the Pat Hannon VFW and the George C. Evans American Legion Post for inviting me to speak. It is an honor and a privilege.
Were I not the mayor I would not be standing here. I know that and that’s okay.
I’ve never worn the uniform, been to war, been wounded or scared in a battle. I’ve never left my family for months or years to travel across the world to fight for and defend my country. I have never eaten an MRE, carried a sea bag, put on combat boots, shot at an enemy, or held a dying friend. I have no idea what war is like. I have no idea what any of you have experienced; your fear, your bravery, your suffering, your survival. I know nothing of what you know.
And so, I stand here today and I remove my designee as mayor – today, I am simply a grateful American. And I represent grateful Americans who don’t have the honor of speaking to their heroes on Veterans Day. I represent grateful Americans who wish they could reach out and thank each of you personally.
Thank you. Two words. Eight letters. We say it all the time – sometimes we don’t even think about it when we say it: I like your shoes. “Thank you.” How are you? “Doing well, thank you.” Can I get that door for you? “Thank you.” Within seconds we have moved away from that moment and have forgotten what we said and to whom we said it.
So where is the power, the emotion in “thank you?” When do two words – eight letters – earn their stripes as words of gratitude? Words of appreciation? Words of thankfulness?
It happens when we put action behind the words. It happens when we look into someone’s eyes and speak from our heart. It happens when we remember what we said and to whom we said it. It happens when we say it because we mean it and not because it’s an auto response. It happens when we don’t plan for it and we aren’t prepared for it but we are stirred to say it. It happens when we let our heart speak.
I was in Washington D.C. in March and visited the Vietnam Memorial and the National World War II Memorial. Walking along the Vietnam Memorial, I passed a mother sobbing while her young daughter clinched her hand, a father scratching pencil across paper to capture his son’s name from the wall, a vet in a wheelchair who was handing a tissue to a tearful older man, an older couple desperately searching for the name they wished was not on that wall. There were countless teddy bears, crosses, flags, and candles covering the ground…and I was overwhelmed.
I turned away and looked across the reflecting pool. But the sounds continued; the soft crying, sniffling, a deep breath, a child’s voice, a tissue being pulled from a box, gravel crunching as people moved around in search and then, “Here it is. Here he is. He’s here. It’s here. I found it.”
My eyes burned, I could feel my heart ache, my throat swelled and my head filled with two simple words, eight letters…and they seemed inadequate. But I had nothing else. And so I repeated these words silently and as I started to walk away, I quietly whispered them. I had to let them out – I had to pass them to the air to swirl around the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, sons and daughters who were standing at the wall grieving alone. I have never meant two words more than I did that day, at that time, in that place.
And so, the emotion is met with action. Gratitude collides with thankfulness and we move into a place of thanks – giving.
It is believed we lost our last World War I American veteran in 2011. May they all rest in peace and know that they left behind a grateful nation. May they all know the sound of those two words and feel the passion of the voice who spoke them.Since World War I, the United States of America’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard have fought in ten battles:
- World War II
- Korean War
- Vietnam War
- Bay of Pigs
- Invasion of Panama
- The Persian Gulf
- Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Invasion of Afghanistan, and the
- Invasion of Iraq
We open our arms and our hearts and welcome them all home. They did not all come home alive, they did not all come home whole, many are not yet home, and we continue to send many back into harm’s way. The enormity of their sacrifice is beyond compare. So how do we dare to believe two words, eight letters is enough?
John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
So, it isn’t enough to say it – we need to be it. Grateful. Thankful. Appreciative. The greatest prayer you can say is “Thank You.” Two words. Eight letters. But weighted with love, gratitude, humility and understanding.
Each day that passes we move further away from these wars. The heroes pass, time pushes in new headlines, life gets in the way of the past, and we move through our own days and months and years.
Ceremonies are important but our gratitude has to be more than once a year. We honor these men and women most by living well.
In closing I would like to share this passage from President Ronald Reagan from a speech he gave at the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial November 11, 1988 – I took the liberty of adding the last two words…
For too long a time, they stood in a chill wind, as if on a winter night's watch. And in that night, their deeds spoke to us, but we knew them not. And their voices called to us, but we heard them not. Yet in this land that God has blessed, the dawn always at last follows the dark, and now morning has come. The night is over. We see these men and know them once again -- and know how much we owe them, how much they have given us, and how much we can never fully repay. And not just as individuals but as a nation, we say we love you and thank you.