Honoring those who served

EDITOR’S NOTE: David Hall, president and CEO of the Chenango County Chamber of Commerce, was invited to give the guest oration at Veterans’ Day ceremonies in Norwich Saturday. Below is the text of his speech.

By David Hall

Chenango County Chamber of Commerce

Today is a time to reflect and remember, as we celebrate our veterans.  You honor each of us who served with your presence and for that I sincerely thank you.

By nature I am not a reflective person – a common character flaw among successful military pilots. However, a few days ago I walked around our two city parks here in the middle of Norwich. I wanted to study the stone monuments honoring Chenango County residents from past wars, and it was important to me on a personal level to be able to reflect upon the names. 

The monument to WWI lists almost 500 including two nurses - Mildred Curtis and Caroline Hansen. Among the names listed were 8 doctors and 3 dentists, and I thought it somewhat interesting they were separated out because of their profession. Who were those people? Farmers, shop keepers, teachers, laborers?  The heart and soul of our communities I’m sure. There were 4 men named Aldrich, 6 named Brown, and among the 9 who died there was a Robert Dunn. Four other Dunns were listed on that monument. Were they his brothers or cousins? Was one of them there when Robert died? Was he a grandparent or great grandparent of someone here today?

The World War II monument lists 52 dead including a Hugh Stone. There was an Irving Stone listed as killed on the WWI monument. Were they related? Was there a mother who lost a husband, and then a son?

Korea, often called our “forgotten war,” shares a monument with Vietnam, but there were 11 who died there who we remember and honor today.

There are the names of 17 who did not come back from Vietnam.

There is a monument to Desert Storm with a February 1991 end date when in actuality U.S. servicemen and women have been there continuously for the last 16 years making it our longest continuous conflict by far in American history.  

Regrettably, there will be other monuments added to these parks in my lifetime.

We come today to honor our veterans, but I am concerned as a society we do not.

In this country, we call for debate, but too frequently we want only our own voice to be recognized.  By doing so we do not honor the men and women who served so that we might be heard.

We are a country evenly divided on many issues from foreign policy to family planning and from gun control to gay rights. Years ago we would debate and discuss opposing views, and then we would share a meal together because we were neighbors. Today, the arguments are often personal such that if you do not agree with my position, you are worthy only of contempt. Without respect for each other, we do not honor the men and women who served. 

Too often we do not respect the office of the President, and we blame him and his party for all our ills. Just as some blame George Bush today, others of us blamed Bill Clinton before so please do not insult me by saying it is one political party or another that is responsible for everything with which we do not agree. By behaving in such a manner, we do not honor the men and women who served.

We have become a nation that puts our own personal self-interest first while claiming everyone else is a special interest group. We have become a nation that believes government must provide instead of us providing government. With our actions, we do not honor the men and women who served.  

We call for protection for our workers and industries from global competition when we should be supporting education, a rededication to a strong work ethic, and the technology to make us more competitive. Our sense of entitlement without effort does not honor the men and women who served.

Our Veterans are our link to our history. The vets from WWII and Korea – there has never been a generation like them since. Newscaster Tom Brokaw calls them the “greatest generation.”  They grew up during the Great Depression, yet possess an uncommon dedication and commitment. They raised the baby boomers, built the interstates, the cars, the houses, and the factories. They created the prosperity we enjoy today, and made the United States the world’s singular superpower. 

Those of us from Vietnam, the Cold War, Bosnia, Somalia, the Gulf, and Afghanistan have our own stories – often not shared, and frequently misunderstood, but very much a part of that colorful, diverse tapestry we call America.

As I look around the audience today, I also see our students. They are our link to the future. There has never a more exciting time to be growing up. They live in a world where the sum of human knowledge doubles every two years, but they are also a generation that has never played a record, seen a black and white TV, may not have known President Reagan was shot, and most likely were not born when the Challenger blew up. Perhaps they have their own memories of the space shuttle Columbia or September 11th. I know better, but I pray they will not have their own first hand memories of the world’s trouble spots.

I would leave you with some challenges today. To our students: Question, but learn from our veterans. They are a national treasure, and their numbers are dwindling daily. Question them to learn and understand their dedication, their commitment, and their values. Question them and understand what the words integrity, loyalty, and service before self mean. Question them and understand their sense of family and community. Remember that these men and women are passing the torch of leadership and hope for the future to you.

In return those of us who served will not judge too harshly the generations that follow, and continue to recognize them for their own greatness; reinforce their dignity, their self worth, their culture, and their diversity. We will be tolerant of their music, their dress, and more importantly their ideas. We will become the mentors and teachers.  We will explain our history, talk about our experiences, our hopes, our dreams, and our fears.  We will teach our values so they may better understand their own, and we will recognize that they too are a national treasure.

To do so will honor the men and women who served.

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