Tumultuous times not limited to this generation

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 1, 2006

For the past 20 years citizens of Union Church have gathered tohonor area men who attended Jefferson County Agricultural HighSchool in Union Church. Of the 15 men being honored, thirteen diedin World War II.

The following are comments I was honored to make at theceremonies Saturday morning:

“It is fitting that we are gathering here today to celebrate andhonor those who have sacrificed – so that the rest of us might beable to simply gather not only here in Union Church but across thisgreat nation we all love – the United States.

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“It is fitting that we gather here, the site of a communityfounded in the earliest days of this country by Scottish settlers,whose determination to create Union Church in 1806 exemplifies thedetermination of our founding fathers and further exemplifies thebedrock this nation was built upon.

“It is further fitting we are here because in 1863 Union Churchplayed a strategic role in the most tragic of events in thiscountry – the Civil War.

“It is also fitting that we are here today because of what isgoing on right now in Iraq and Afghanistan – the newest frontier inour effort to protect the values we hold so dear in this country.Those men and women, serving our country in an ever-growingunpopular war here at home, not only need, but also deserve oursupport, our respect, our gratitude and our prayers.

“In this information age we find ourselves today, where even themost mundane events are broadcast worldwide as breaking news, wherethe immediacy of our world makes one’s head swim – between risinggasoline prices, natural disasters, bickering politicians, mountingtensions around the world – the stress and tension of life seems toincrease moment by moment with little hope of relief. I sometimeswonder how could it get any more stressful. But I ask myself – Aretimes more stressful now than in the past?

“The events of September 11, 2001 gripped this nation likenothing ever before – or did it?

“For some of you here today, a Sunday morning in 1941 was justas shocking as you awoke to the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.The innocence of a nation was changed with the blink of an eye. Acountry still struggling to come out of the economic calamity ofthe Great Depression, while at the same time hoping to avoid aconflict with Adolph Hitler’s Germany, was blind-sided byJapan.

“Of course, that Sunday morning on Dec. 7 was the beginning ofWorld War II for the United States and the day this country tookits place in history as the leader of the free world. But as manyof you here today can attest, the uncertainty of those times madefor tremendous trepidation and a need for reaching deep into onesself just to survive.

“Ordinary men became leaders. Women gave up traditional roles,rolled up their sleeves and became factory workers who built themachinery needed for the war effort. Sacrifices were everywhere asshortages of everything caused people to do without or findinnovative ways to make do.

“For those of us a little younger, it was the uncertainty of theCold War against Russia and China.

“How many of you remember the bomb shelters of the 1960’s or thethreat of the Cuban Missile Crisis? Three world powers – the UnitedStates, Russia and China pitted against one another in a fight overdemocracy and socialism. The fear of the advances of communismforced this country into Korea, then into Viet Nam.

“It, too, was a time of great social unrest. Civil unrest notonly between the races but also between young and old, rich andpoor, as this country saw social and war protests never before seenin our nation’s history.

“But at the same time, it was also a time of great advances.Tremendous advances in sciences such as the first heart transplant,performed – just north of here in Jackson – at the UniversityMedical Center. It was a time of technological advances as thespace race between the United States and Russia lead us to themoon. Two young California men working out of a garage invented afunny little electronic box – named it Apple – launching a personalcomputer revolution.

“The tough times of the 1940’s turned into the economic boomtimes of the 50’s and 60’s. After a slow down in the 70’s, the 80’sand 90’s took off.

“Those times did not just happen. They were rooted in deepoptimism. But from where did the optimism come?

“In his book, NBC newsman Tom Brokaw calls them the “GreatestGeneration.” They are the ones who laid the foundation of what wehave today. Many of you here this morning are members of thatgeneration.

“I, and the rest of us, applaud you! For it is you, the membersof this “Greatest Generation,” who built the foundation of thatspirit of optimism – optimism which changed the world.

“It was you who sacrificed so much so the rest of us could enjoythat which we have today. It is you who taught us, the youngergenerations, the lessons, gave us a vision for the future andshowed us the importance of a country pulling together for a singlecause.

“As I talk to and listen to younger people, I see a continuationof that optimism – a willingness to do what it takes to accomplisha goal. I may not agree with the direction I think they are goingat times, but then again nor did my parents nor many of younecessarily agree with the direction your children were going.

“The world today is a troublesome place. Is it any worse than itwas 60 years ago? The world may be a little faster than some of uswould like, maybe the world is a little more inclusive than some ofus are used to – or wanting to accept – but is it any worse?

“One thing is certain; when our founding fathers signed theDeclaration of Independence in 1776 they did so based on certainprincipals. Principals that I do fear are being taken for grantedthese days – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom toassemble. Freedoms that did not come without bloodshed, withoutgrit and determination or without sacrifice. I also fear that manytoday do not fully appreciate or understand our capitalisticfree-enterprise system – an economic system that is the engine thatallows this country to be the world leader we are today. I alsofear fewer and fewer people really understand that it is notgovernment that provides jobs, but private business that holds thatresponsibility.

“Maybe we are still fighting the cold war but on a differentplane.

“In other parts of the world the freedoms we enjoy are somewhatless or non-existent and fear of those freedoms, as well as oureconomic system by some, is very much the driving force ofterrorism today.

“So maybe all of us need to go back and reread a little history,reflect on the past and appreciate what we have and how it came tobeing. For it has not been easy.

“And that brings me back to why it is fitting that we gatherhere today – to remember and to learn.

“In the immortal words of the Gettysburg address, when hededicated the gravesites of confederate and union soldiers,President Abraham Lincoln said, ‘…We have come to dedicate aportion of [this] field, as a final resting place for those whohere gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogetherfitting and proper that we should do this.’

“We must remember those who sacrificed for us and that is why weare here this morning; but just as importantly we must remember andthank those who are now walking in the footsteps of those of thepast – for it is their effort that will insure future generationsare as fortunate as this one.

“It is fitting and vitally important that we gather here and dojust that.”