Thank you. First I want to thank Georgia Cudina and the Veteran’s Memorial Committee for inviting me here today.
Back on September 11, when I was invited to speak, I thought I was being asked to introduce a real speaker – someone important and dynamic – but found out that I was the real speaker. That was a bit of a disappointment, I thought I was going to get to hear someone good. When I was approached about speaking today, I have to admit, I felt pretty good about myself. Hey I must have been pretty good, they’re asking me back, aren’t they? I was walking a little taller, acting a little cooler – good times! Then they sent me the itinerary. This time there WERE real speakers – the Congressman and the Senator. Hmm, maybe I wasn’t quite so good.
Seriously, I am both honored and humbled to have the opportunity to be among such impressive people – Congressman Lance, Senator Doherty, such talented people – the Hunterdon Harmonizers, Cliff Delaney and the Bagpipers, such caring people – Mrs. Cudina and the committee, and most importantly, such brave and honorable people – our veterans who are present today. Thank you.
Today, we come together to honor the men and women who have served our nation throughout its 234-year history. That is great. It is great to honor our veterans, many who paid the ultimate sacrifice, with speeches, with parades and with memorials.
While it is important to pay tribute to them like this on an occasion such as this, it is more important to honor them every day of the year by living lives that honor, protect and appreciate the very freedoms and values that they fought, and often perished, to provide to you and me.
Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, said, “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.”
Wow, about 150 years ago, one of the greatest Americans laid down the gauntlet for all generations who would follow – to, under the watch of our creator, preserve all that is good – democracy and liberty and freedom – so that those who perished to establish and preserve these principles would have not died in vain. Today, my friends, I challenge you to heed the words of Lincoln in a new world, the world of the 21st Century.
As the principal of Woodglen School, I receive Gubernatorial Proclamations calling for flags to fly at half-staff. Unfortunately, each one of these is more than just a piece of paper, more than just a government mandate – each one of these is a life lost, usually a life lost in service to our nation. Today’s Star Ledger profiled the 22 New Jersey soldiers that have been killed in Afghanistan since October 2001.
Army Warrant Officer John Quinlan, Army Corporal Steven Koch, Army Staff Sergeant William Neil, Army Colonel John McHugh and Marine Lutenient Jason Mann were among those who died in service.
22 Gubernatorial Proclamations.
Army Staff Sergeant Andrew Lobosco, Army Specialist Michael Scusa, Marine Sergeant Christopher Hrbek and Marine Lance Corporal Jeremy Kane were among those proclamations.
22 flags flown at half-staff.
Army Sergeant Marcos Gorra, Army Sergeant Scott Brunkhorst, Army Sergeant Ronald Kubik and Army 1st Lieutenant Salvatore Corma were among those flags flown at half staff.
22 families whose lives were changed forever, 22 men who died so that you and I and people in a far off land could enjoy democracy, liberty and freedom. It is a reminder – FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.
Army Seargeant Steven Checo, Navy Petty Officer David Tapper, and Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff died to protect democracy, liberty and freedom.
The American soldier has always been a hero, not just to the people of the United States, but also to the world. The American soldier has always stood for what was good, and right and honorable. The American soldier has always put his or her life on the line for our great nation. The American soldier has always protected the world’s helpless, the world’s vulnerable and the world’s oppressed.
Army Private Robert White, Army Captain Charles Robinson, Army Staff Sergeant Christian Longsworth and Army Staff Sergeant Robert Chiomento died while standing for those who could not stand for themselves.
Every state in the union has a list like this, as nearly 1000 troops have died. Throughout our history, 42 million Americans have served and over 1 million have died during time of war.
As we stand here at the dedication of a memorial to all American Veterans, as we stand here on the eve of Memorial Day remembering those who died in service, I challenge you to heed the words of Lincoln – to assure that our men and women have not served and have not died, in vain. We have been given a gift by these men and women, one that cannot be repaid directly, but one that must be repaid to our posterity. Remember, FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.
What is OUR price? We must protect liberty and freedom on a daily basis. We must use liberty and freedom responsibly. We must pass liberty and freedom on to our children. We must spread liberty and freedom around the world – helping the helpless, protecting the vulnerable and fighting for the oppressed.
America and Americans have never waivered in their commitment to freedom and has always helped those who seek to be free. Americans have always fought for good throughout our history. We battled for independence in the Revolutionary War. We battled against evil in World War II. And we continue to battle against oppression and world terror in Afghanistan.
While I would love nothing more than to see a peaceful world, one without war, my prayer for our nation is that our people, our leaders and our servicemen and women never stop fighting for what is right and what is good. Our founding fathers, in the Declaration of Independence, reminded us that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While this document was written in response to our struggles against England, the basic principals echoes true for all men, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin. As a country that has been blessed by with abundance for 234 years, we need to give thanks for those who have fought to establish and preserve these principles and for those who continue to do so.
About two months ago, one of those 22 New Jersey Servicemen, one of those Gubernatorial Proclamations, became more than a piece of paper to me. Army Corporal Michael D. Jankiewicz, a US Army Ranger was killed in action. Corporal Jankiewicz was from Ramsey NJ. I was the vice principal at Ramsey High School before I came to Woodglen. I never met Corporal Jankiewicz, who was 23 years old and entered the high school the year after I left, but I do know the Army Ranger Chaplin who had to come home, travel to Ramsey, New Jersey, and inform Mr. and Mrs. Jankiewicz that their young son, Michael, had been killed in service to his country. I listened to stories about this young man, about how he loved his country, about how he loved being a soldier and about how he felt he was doing something important, something good. At his funeral service, the Army Ranger Chaplin explained how Corporal Michael D. Jankiewicz and all of our servicemen and women, today and throughout history, have been used for a greater purpose.
He invoked Romans chapter 13, verse 4: “For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrong doer.”
America has a special purpose – we have been blessed with resources, wealth and power. Some say that believing this is arrogant, which, I guess it can be. But I believe, though, that our servicemen and women have accepted this responsibility with great humility. They have put their lives on the line for the noblest of causes. We fought the British for freedom in the Revolution. We fought against ourselves to abolish slavery in the Civil War. We defeated Nazi Germany to end the systematic incineration of human beings in World War II and to day, we are fighting terror groups to stop the murder of innocents around the world.
Today, I urge each and every one of you, to support our troops as they continue to do good here and around the world. I urge you all to honor the men and women who have served by protecting the values, the liberty and the freedom they have provided. I urge you to pass these ideals on to your children, and teach them that FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.
I would like to conclude by paraphrasing a poem that I recently read, its author is unknown:
It is not the preacher who has given us freedom of religion.
It is not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press.
It is not the poet who has given us freedom of speech.
It is not the activist who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is not the lawyer who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is not the politician who has given us the right to vote.
It is the VETERAN who has given us all of this.
It is the VETERAN who will continue to protect all of this.
God Bless you all, and God Bless the United States of America.