Sunday, November 11, 2018

Speech in Wayland, Michigan for Veterans Day 2018

Veterans Day
Wayland Pine Street Elementary
November 9, 2018

Thank you for inviting me here, today. I’m certainly honored to return to Wayland and speak on such an important occasion. We’re here to honor our heroes and to simply say “thank you" for your sacrifices.

Today’s ceremony, like many that will be held around the country this weekend, honors our veterans who came from all walks of life, but shared several fundamental qualities: They possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity -- the qualities necessary to serve a cause more important than one’s self.

Many of our veterans didn’t ask to leave home to fight on distant battlefields. Many didn’t actually volunteer. They didn’t join necessarily to go off to war because they loved to fight. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary folks who responded in extraordinary ways during difficult times. They rose to our nation’s call because they wanted to serve a country that has given them --- has given us --- so much.

Since the first shots at Lexington and Concord were fired in 1775, American men and women have been answering the call to duty. Millions fought and many paid the price on battlefields, here and around the globe, to defend our way of life. Today, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines continue to stand up against those who seek to destroy freedom in many places around the world.

As we all know, Veterans Day began as a day of celebration and remembrance at the conclusion of the first World War. That war ended 100 years ago this Sunday, and the law that created Armistice Day, as it was called, directed that it be, quote, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated.” Following World War 2 and the Korean War, the name was changed to Veterans Day, to honor all veterans from every war and conflict, and also those who served during peacetime.

So, this morning it would be fitting to take a quick moment and reflect back 100 years ago, to the bloody battlefields of Europe, and the two million Americans who helped bring that horrific war to an end. The Army regiment in which I proudly served during my military career is known as the 126th Infantry. In 1918, it included men from across west and southeast Michigan, and was part of the famed 32nd “Red Arrow Division.” The division had fought four very difficult exhausting battles over a six-month period, in some of the worst conditions possible, that only veterans who have experienced them could appreciate. The regiment had suffered the loss of many men but was still preparing to continue the fight even right up to the war’s very last day.

A soldier in the 126th had kept a diary and his commanding officer later published a book. I would like to briefly share what Captain Emil B. Gansser had to say on that very last day of war:

“The morning of November 11, 1918, broke with the usual accompaniments of battle. The boom of artillery guns and the crash of exploding shells, with their clouds of smoke and dirt, were still with us. The immediate cessation of fighting was not evident during the early morning hours, and no one expected such a contingency to happen so soon.

“About 9 o’clock in the morning messages were received that an armistice, or cessation of fighting, had been signed, and that hostilities would cease at 11 o’clock. This news was too good to be true, and after hearing so many rumors, this news was regarded as another hoax and little belief given to it.

“The enemy kept sending over an occasional artillery shell all along the front line until 11 o’clock, and our artillery responded in kind.

“At last the designated hour arrived, and as if to mock us for our unbelief, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the great cannons ceased their roar, and the continual sounds of the machine gun became silent. The scream of the flying shells and the whistle of the bullet was no more. The curtain was drawn on History’s greatest and bloodiest of conflicts between man.

“The suddenness of the end and the quiet created a sort of dumbness and one did not know whether to laugh or to cry. Contrary to ordinary belief, the tired soldier did not cheer. He still doubted the truth and feared it might be another trick, and waited until that night came and passed before he was convinced.

“When morning came and all was quiet, we felt assured that the peace was real and all were happy.”

America is fortunate to have had millions of brave men and women stand for freedom since our country’s founding. We owe it to them all to ensure that their service and sacrifice is always honored. And, we also want to continue to remember their families who have sacrificed much as well.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Link to photos from the ceremony: