Today…the words of a veteran.

Today, I thank the men and women who fought to defend our liberties, beliefs and way of life.

Today, I honor the sacrifice they made when they left family and friends; a warm, safe bed; and, the ease of day-to-day life to fight for ideals much bigger than themselves.

Today, I pray that the scars they received – be they visible or not -begin to fade with time.

Today, I remember that every decision to enter into battle is one that takes disproportionately from some and is made too easily by others. 

Today, I acknowledge that one day is not enough to honor what veterans have given for me and others like me.

Today, I stand taller knowing that I am fortunate to live in a country where patriots walk amongst us.

Thank you to all veterans for their service to this country.  Today, like every day, I hold you dear in my heart.  Today, I am honored to share the words of a local veteran, Adam Gehlhar.  Adam is one of Cheyenne’s teachers at STEM and he read a speech in class that he gave July 4, 2006 to a small community in North Dakota.  Cheyenne came home and told me about it – she said it was very moving. 

Adam gave this speech at the age of 23 while he was serving with the 141st ECB and had been home from Iraq for about a year.  Adam subsequently served a second tour in Iraq.  He has been home since 2008, and still actively serves in the Army National Guard.

According to Adam, “My objective in sharing this speech with students is not indoctrination but enlightenment. It gets a little easier to read every year but I still get a little emotional when I read it.” 

These men and women, these veterans – they are us – our children, our siblings, our spouses, our friends.  Listen to their voices, honor their words, understand their contribution, embrace their patriotism…start today, right here with Adam’s words.

The words of Adam Gehlhar

When I was asked to come here to give a speech on patriotism I would have to say I was a little more than hesitant. Then as I thought more objectively about the subject of patriotism I began to see this speech as a responsibility, not necessarily to this community, but to my own ideals and myself. 

Rather than attempt to define patriotism, I feel an overwhelming need to get each of you to think objectively about it, and spend some time on this Fourth of July 2006 in self reflection.

I will not be answering many questions for you. In fact, if I leave you with more questions than answers then my real goal has been accomplished.  

Indeed patriotism has multiple definitions, I want give you an opportunity to define it for yourself.  That is what is great about our nation; it provides you with the freedom, and opportunity to express yourself in ways which are virtually unknown or at best only conceptual in many other parts of this world.

So what is a patriot? Who is a patriot?

Patriotism will always be defined as love for ones country. As Americans we are given the freedom to show this love in whichever manner we see fit, and of course the first Amendment to the Constitution guarantees this right.  But does merely loving your country make you a patriot?  If you are politically involved, if you vote, participate in local or state government and pay your taxes does that make you a patriot? Does taking a political position that upholds our constitution and preserves our liberties make you a patriot? Does working hard every day, farming the land and providing for others, educating our youth, caring for the sick and impoverished make you a patriot? Does working for our government, preserving the order and adding to the everyday functionality of our nation make you a patriot? Does giving of yourself, volunteering your time, delivering meals on wheels, or donating your money make you a patriot? Does working through the great depression, for one dollar a day, and still finding money to buy war bonds, as our grandparents did, make you a patriot? Does serving your country either domestically or in a foreign war make you a patriot?

Upon a quick look across our culture you would think that we are all very patriotic.  Of course during this time of year you see a lot of flags, and yellow ribbons.  But are these items maintained or just a reparation for a real lack of sacrifice or understanding of sacrifice. 

 Unless you are a faddish adolescent you aren’t going to run around with a raggy, torn pair of pants on.  Don’t fly a torn, faded and tattered flag. Tattered flags should be taken to a veterans service group be burned (the ashes are scattered on veterans graves)

Don’t place a support our troops yellow ribbon on your car unless you do so wholeheartedly. When was the last time you thanked a service member, said a prayer for our troops or showed your support at a military funeral?

Whether you believe the war on Iraq was the appropriate response to 9/11or not, please never allow, support or condone the actions of those who protest the funerals of our fallen soldiers.  

Mark Twain would say “Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time and your government when it deserves it.”

I believe political activism is a form of patriotism, and if you have well founded opinion on the war on terrorism I suggest you pursue whatever avenues you can to let your elected representatives in government know. However I do believe there is a definitive difference between politics and support for our troops.

 If you slander and tear down our country’s leadership, and military for your own self-interest and political agenda you are merely a politician. If you participate in political activism for the purpose of preserving our nation and the values we uphold you are a patriot. I believe there are far too many politicians and not enough patriots in this country but only you can decide where you are.

Our troops believe we are making a difference in the world, regardless of our initial motivations for entering the nation of Iraq it many of us felt it is our patriotic duty as world citizens to promote peace, democracy and liberty in our time, all I ask is that if you say you support our troops and their families then please do so with more than a yellow ribbon on your vehicle. 

Each and every day there are mothers and fathers who wake up and find out that their sons and daughters have given their life for freedom.  There are husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who face the world with a heavy burden from their losses and sacrifices.  Do something for them; often it can be as simple as a prayer.

The 4th of July 1776, December 7, 1941, September 11, 2001,  these are all definitive dates in our nations history. A true patriot knows the history of their nation, and understands the sacrifices made, and blood shed by past generations of Americans.

I understand the sacrifices made, I have seen and felt them firsthand. In parting I want to tell you all about a moment in my life that has forever cemented my own sense of patriotism. 

On May 8, 2004 one of my best friends Philip Dorman Brown was killed in Iraq.  The day before his death we had spent the afternoon together, talking about our leave plans, our friends, and the complexity of the war that surrounded us.  A short while later several of us were designated as pallbearers to carry load his body on the airplane home. I remember distinctly the bright colors of the flag that was draped over his stainless steel coffin.  A few days later I was designated as one of the speakers at his memorial service, which was held in a gymnasium on our forward operating base near Tikrit.  Phil was the first loss of life for our company and the reality of our duty began to set in.  As I spoke, I noticed that there in the center of the gymnasium flew the American Flag, and suddenly it represented more than it had to me before. In front of that flag were the boots of a man, a friend that I had attended school with, played sports with, and hung out with since the sixth grade. Between the boots was his rifle; atop the rifle was the Kevlar helmet that had shaded the fun loving, always smiling face of my dear friend and brother in arms from the hot Iraq sun for over two months. As the roll call was made up to his name even our first sergeants voice wavered. SPC Brown, Specialist Philip Brown, Specialist Philip Dorman Brown, of course there was no answer.  You could have heard a pin drop in that gymnasium when taps began to play. I stood at attention, felt every note reverberate in my bones and I would never be the same. From that day on I would never see an American flag the same, even the national anthem and taps produce a lump in my throat and send chills down my spine.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the gymnasium that day, and sadly it wouldn’t be our last time there for that purpose. Days later we had a memorial for James Holmes, and six months later we would pay our respects to another friend and brother in arms, Lance Koenig. And of course there were more, and thousands of others unknown by you and I but each known well by someone.

 I truly hope our country can respect the sacrifices made by all of our veterans and see this war on terrorism through to its end. It is hard for me to imagine that two years ago on this day we were out in 125 degree heat looking for roadside bombs. War is the ugliest resolution to human problems that can possibly exist. Seeing a disadvantaged country and fighting for their independence gave me a new perspective on this day and how special it is to be able to spend it here with each of you.   If our hearts lie in the right place we will never be wrong, it is for this reason that I will never regret my service in Iraq. 

For generations our nation has sacrificed for the greater good, sacrificed to uphold our values. Of course I am not equating war with patriotism, war is not patriotism, but the ugliness of war certainly changed my perspective on life. And now I myself compelled to dedicate myself to service and sacrifice, to live for those who gave their lives, and to change the course for those who I hope will not have to.

Patriotism has its roots in sacrifice, sacrifice that comes in a variety of forms, and that be known by all of us, if we seek it out.  Today is your opportunity; every day is your opportunity. Go out use this day to reflect on your own definition of patriotism, and sacrifice for the greater good of humanity.  What makes a patriot? I believe that it is you, through your actions you make yourself and others patriots. God bless each of you today, thank you for this opportunity.

Day eight hundred and fifty-eight of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C

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About Ms. C

I teach at NDSU...but I remain a student of life with all the enthusiasm that entails. My favorite saying is, "Sometimes you have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down." In the new forty that is what I am doing...building my wings.
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One Response to Today…the words of a veteran.

  1. katherine says:

    Amen.

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