Memorial Day is embodied in the oaths all soldiers take when they first enlist in the service, Bill Stoudt says.
It’s an oath taken years and decades ago by many in the audience Monday morning at the U.S. Veterans Monument of Kilgore.
“We should not forget these words that each and every soldier spoke upon enlistment,” the Gregg County judge continued, “when we look into the tearful eyes of a returning soldier, watch the painful walk of the disabled veteran or observe the cold face of a grave marker.”
Memorial Day was first observed in 1868, he reminded the crowd, a remembrance for soldiers who died in the Civil War.
“Since 1971, the last Monday in May has been officially designated as Memorial Day to pay tribute and to honor those who have given their lives in all American wars,” Stoudt said. “Generations of brave, selfless, patriotic men and women have served in the military, protecting and defending our nation; and countless young warriors have laid down their lives in the ultimate sacrifice.”
It’s more than a three-day weekend, he added.
It’s more than a ‘happy’ holiday, Kilgore Veterans Association President John Edney agreed.
“When our soldiers die on the battlefield,” Edney said, “pieces of our heart also die, in our families.”
Edney welcomed the 125-plus crowd to Harris Street Park and its veterans monument Monday, and members of the Kilgore Fire Department’s Honor Guard posted the colors. Amid prayers and patriotic music, veterans of each of branch of the military – Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines – rose during Mitzi Buck Hartfiel’s performance of the “Armed Forces Medley.”
Stoudt, this year’s keynote speaker, said Memorial Day forces Americans to recognize an unfortunate fact of life: their country was formed and is protected by the blood of warriors. They can be thankful, though, as through the years Americans have answered the call of the armed forces every time the nation’s way of life has been threatened.
“It is difficult to accurately describe how much a young person puts on the line,” he said, “when that young man or woman is handed a pen somewhere in a military processing station. Their fate is sealed with the final stroke of that pen because they’ve just signed a blank check – payable with their lives – to the American people.”
Americans mourn the loss of every soldier and honor their memories as heroes, Stoudt added.
“We pray for the loved ones they left behind. And, we must pledge to recommit to making the nation they died to protect worthy of their sacrifice,” he said. “As a nation, we must be grateful for and humbled by the service of our armed forces, and we must celebrate the lives of our courageous heroes who have helped shape a better world for us.”
That’s the grim reality of our freedom, Stoudt noted: it ranks among the greatest of gifts known to man, but like anything of great value, it has a price.
“Freedom is not bought cheaply. The question is, how do we show our gratitude to our men and women in uniform who have given their lives for us? We do it by making this country something worth dying for.”
Americans can do that every day in their own ways, he said. On Memorial Day, especially, they can reflect on the sacrifices of brave men and women. They can honor them those paid the ultimate price, and those who continue to serve the country today.
“None of our fallen warriors ever wanted or intended to die,” Stoudt concluded, “but their blank checks were cashed. If these sacrifices must be made again, let them be made in the name of God, country and freedom.
“We today must commit to never, never forget these heroes.”