Editorial: A Memorial Day Remembrance

Mon, 05/27/2013 - 1:02pm

On Thursday, Nov. 19, 1863, a group of dignitaries, including President Abraham Lincoln, gathered on a field in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to dedicate the opening of Soldiers’ National Cemetery. This was during the Civil War and just a little under five months after Union soldiers won a decisive battle against the Confederate Army on that Pennsylvanian field.

In 10 sentences, Lincoln managed to incorporate American history, human compassion, theology, a tribute to American soldiers, and, finally, the coda of his brief speech turned out to be one of the great encapsulations of the underlying principles of what American government ought to be.

The keynote speaker on that day in 1863 was not Lincoln, but a well-known orator by the name of Edward Everett. Everett spoke for two hours while Lincoln patiently waited, and he later wrote to Lincoln: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Memorial Day is Monday, May 27. While on the island, take a moment during the day to remember those who served and did not come home.

Here is Lincoln’s speech, which is 150 years old this year, and yet endures.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, 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 here. 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.”