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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Text: Tracy Sugarman’s Memorial Day Address

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(Following is the text of today’s Memorial Day address by Grand Marshal Tracy Sugarman, a World War II Navy veteran.)

Good morning.

I woke up this morning looking forward to the parade. It was pouring outside and foggy. And I thought back to the night before the planned invasion of Europe on June 5, 1944 when our entire invasion fleet along the English coast, thousands of vessels, filled with soldiers, was enveloped in a pea-soup fog so thick that we could not see each other, and Gen. (Dwight) Eisenhower had to make the decision to call it off.

And we had to go out in our little invasion boats, find the other ships in our harbor, and knock on the sides and holler up to the unseen men in the fog, “we’re not going!” The free world had been training and preparing for this moment for endless months and years, and suddenly we had to out it off because of the weather!

On June 6th we successfully invaded Fortress Europe. “Man proposes, but God disposes.” I feel bad for the kids who were cheated of their parade this morning. But life goes on.

It is a great privilege and a humbling experience to be invited to speak to so many friends and Westport neighbors on Memorial Day. Like so many of you I have long and sweet memories of so many Memorial Days I’ve witnessed and participated in over many years.

It is a very special and poignant part of living here. It is a time for looking back and, with so many of our children with us, a time for looking ahead. Like many of you I have seen my kids march as Brownies and march as Cubs and proudly march as Scouts.

I myself recall marching with a Scout Troop I was guiding, and I recall once marching at the end of the parade during a troubled time during the Vietnam War, wearing a black armband. A lot of memories, some of them joyful and some of them painful.

Memorial Day for the kids of Westport is a wonderful and happy occasion, a chance to declare their special place in the life of this beautiful town. And as their parents or grandparents we delight every year in their growth.

But, unlike the children, we can also remember the sad and hard days of too many wars that we memorialize. On the thoughtful statue on Veterans Green are the names of 250 Westport men and women who answered the call of duty during World War I, 250 from our town that was probably no more than 5,000 citizens.

On the plaques remembering those who left Westport to serve in World War II, in Korea, and in Vietnam, there are more than 1,600—50 of them never made it home. 

Today our young men and women are serving all over the world, still engaged in tragically long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They loyally do their hazardous tours of duty, sometimes repeatedly, for all of us. Their sacrifices, too, should be honored.

We may quarrel about the necessity for a war, but we should never quarrel about the devotion and dedication of the men and women who we send to fight. There is a mythology about those young people, sparked by our television and films.

They do not resemble Tom Hanks or John Wayne. The men who hit the invasion beach with me in World War II looked much more like the junior or senior students at Staples High School, or our kids home from college.

We should realize that the soldiers, sailors or airmen we sent to fight our wars in France, or Vietnam or Korea were kids. Kids, like our kids.

For those of us who served, or waited, or worked on the home front, those recollections are hard. And yet for most of us, we cherish those memories of comradeship and sharing. But we remember what war was, what war is.

I have often been told that when I was part of the great D-Day invasion of Europe I was in the “good war.” That is not true. Every man or woman here who was part of that struggle knows that there is no such thing as a good war.

We’ve been there and we know that war is a disaster, that war is cruel, that war is brutal, that war alone does not solve the problems that make wars happen. The best one can say is that our war against Nazi fascism and Japanese militarism was necessary if tyranny was not to engulf the world.

We had to fight enemies who wanted to kill us and to kill the ideas of personal liberty and freedom that we had nurtured since our Revolution.

In this country we have the freedom to stand up, to speak out, to urge our elected leaders to make decisions wisely and carefully about going to war at any time. We have that right and that obligation. We know from the tragic history of our own Civil War what can result when peaceful solutions are lost to violence.

In our war to preserve the Union, in the struggle to end the curse of slavery, more than 600,000 Americans died, more deaths all together than in all the wars we have ever fought. We paid a terrible price to remain one nation, indivisible, and a beacon of liberty for the whole world. Our example has helped to inspire the struggles for freedom that we see being waged every day on our television as other young men and women struggle against tyrannies across the globe.

In a world that is shrinking, and ever more dangerous, our children will have to avoid future war by tackling the unfinished business of our country. In our lifetime we have witnessed how our nation has taken steps forward, steps that were not apparent to the extraordinary men who fashioned our Constitution.

They never included women as the equals of men. Our women had to struggle to gain the right to vote, not achieving it until 1920. The framers of our Constitution believed that an American of color should be counted only as 3/5ths of his white neighbor.

Remarkable as they were, the signers reflected their times, and their times were 235 years ago. The fights for civil rights, for the rights of the handicapped, for gay rights, for children’s rights goes on.  Like our children, the country we love, and have fought for, continues to grow and mature.

On Memorial Day we look backward with pride and gratitude to those who sacrificed so much for us. And we look at our kids and think of the future, and pray that they will continue to do the unfinished business of our democracy that will keep us the most fortunate place on earth.

Posted 05/30 at 03:38 PM 

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