On May 30, 1935, in Iowa City, Iowa, a 43-year-old infantry captain, serving at the university’s military department, was asked to deliver remarks on Memorial Day.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was two years into his first term. Congress was about to approve the New Deal.
Five days earlier, Jesse Owens tied or broke four world records in 45 minutes. Hitler had reinstated the Luftwaffe and created the Lebensborn racist breeding program. Mussolini would invade Abyssinia (Somalia) later that year.
The captain’s remarks, titled “Taking Inventory,” spoke of honoring the fallen, the threat of current dictatorships, and the internal conflicts in America. He implored his audience:
“Let us not forget that every great privilege we enjoy — the rights of free speech, freedom of the press, freedom in religion, personal security, and the opportunity to provide for ourselves and our children — has been purchased for us with the sweat, the treasure, and the blood of these patriots whom we honor today, paid on a thousand battlefields.
“No mere words have ever given us one of these. No treaty, no declaration, no proclamation, no resolution, no statute means anything until backed by determined physical purpose. …
“Even law, if not enforced, is a mockery. Words which are not or cannot be backed by deeds are mere futilities.”
The captain warned against complacency from Americans believing that wars had been outlawed, and advocates for military strength were merely selfish seekers of silk braid and profit.
“We are even accused of wanting war. No one charges the policeman with wanting murders and crime, nor the fireman with wanting fires.
“I say to you, in no uncertain terms, that Soldiers and Sailors do not want wars, but like floods and fires, wars have come and never in this country has the Soldier or Sailor had anything to do with their coming.”
He closed his remarks with a requiem for patriotism and remembrance:
“Oh, two of us this vigil keep, Mid-summer rain and winter snow, Month by month, and year by year, As seasons come and seasons go:
Remember as you pass my grave, I am not dead, I cannot die. So long as patriots keep the faith We live! My flag and I. Pity! No. Nay envy me My place against the morning sky; So long as you will guard us well, We live — my flag and I.”
The author went on to fight in Pacific and European theaters of World War II. He was not well educated nor famous, but his request from long ago rings true today.
He was prior service, commissioned in World War I. He retired as a major general.
As a brigadier general, he was the U.S. general officer in the Quadripartite Commission that oversaw the Nuremberg trials.
As we look forward to time with families and friends over Memorial Day weekend, please remember our fallen, our flag and our freedoms.
We are the fortunate benefactors of many brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Let us keep their faith with our own as we perform our sacred duties.