The best of times, the worst of times

The best of times, the worst of times

Under the shadow of ‘the greatest gesture towards tyranny that we as a country have ever experienced,’ a decorated veteran remembers and honors the war fallen and the fragile freedom that they died to protect

BRATTLEBORO — Flanders Fields is not far from Hürtgen Forest, where Jim Carr fought the Battle of the Bulge in that blistering cold that December of 1944, and not far from the POW camp where Richard Hamilton suffered that horrible winter.

John McCrae's poem “In Flanders Fields” reminds us today of why we are here:

* * *

§In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow

§Between the crosses, row on row,

§{emspace}That mark our place; and in the sky

§{emspace}The larks, still bravely singing, fly

§Scarce heard amid the guns below.

* * *

§We are the dead. Short days ago

§We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

§{emspace}Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

§{emspace}{emspace}In Flanders Fields.

* * *

§Take up our quarrel with the foe:

§To you from failing hands we throw

§{emspace}The torch; be yours to hold it high.

§{emspace}If ye break faith with us who die

§We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

§{emspace}{emspace}In Flanders Fields.

* * *

We are reminded of that torch by another member of the greatest generation who grew up but 100 miles east of here, who served as a small unit commander in that great war.

“We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution,” John F. Kennedy said in his presidential inaugural address in 1961.

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

That liberty is as challenged today as it has been at any time throughout our history.

This is the best of times, and it is the worst of times.

It is the worst of times because there was an assault by a force, many of whom were veterans, many bearing symbols of the Confederate rebellion, on our Capitol with the intent of lynching the vice-president of the United States, of injuring the speaker of the House and the other elected representatives, of preventing the free exercise of the constitutional duty of executing and determining the next president of the United States.

A force incited, encouraged, directed, cheered, and congratulated by the president of our country.

This was the greatest threat to democracy and the greatest gesture towards tyranny that we as a country have ever experienced.

This also the best of times, because this last week, the children of St. Michael's School went throughout our town, taking their flags to every grave of all of our veterans.

This is one of our greatest times because last week at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, the speaker was Vice-President Kamala Harris, the honored graduate was Sydney Barber, the secretary of defense was Lloyd J. Austin III - each one of them a person of color.

Let us repeat what Abraham Lincoln said, at that time at Gettysburg in 1863 - it is just as appropriate today:

“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.”

* * *

As we remember the assault on Jan. 6 and recognize that the torch has been passed to leadership that is committed to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, let us remember the words of Lincoln in his second inaugural address, given after the Civil War - the war of rebellion - was completed. Those words, I think, are appropriate today as they were then:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

May I close with a tribute to two sailors. Both of them fought in small units and both were slain for their country.

John F. Kennedy died for his country - not in the South Pacific but here on our own soil on Nov. 22, 1963.

The other sailor went to school right over the hill there at a little school called St. Michael's, and anyone who talks about Johnny Blake will say the same thing - that he was a good guy, a good athlete, a good friend. He never asked for anything. And he fought and served in Vietnam, as a corpsman in the Marine Corps. He died while serving with the Marines.

John Blake knew John Kennedy's call to ask not what could be done for you, but what can be done for your country. And he lived that call. We honor him. today.

Let us honor our fallen, cherish our freedom and liberty, and especially rededicate ourselves to that torch of liberty, lest we break faith with those who have fallen.

No poppies grow in Flanders Fields. Thank you.