‘It’s about human life’
Monsignor Brian Donahue delivered a powerful and moving speech for the Memorial Day Address at the American Legion Clarence Larson Post #23 service Monday.
Donahue, who retired from West Point as a Catholic chaplain in January, shared his experience and thoughts on what it means to serve and give the ultimate sacrifice.
“It’s about human life and the willingness and sacrifice of the human spirit, so that others can live in freedom,” Donahue said. “This is a hallowed day, a sacred day, where we can go out to any field in this country and hold the dirt and realize many fought for us to hold this rich soil.”
Donahue served as a chaplain for the army in the first Gulf War and returned in 2005 for the War in Iraq. He praised three members of West Point’s Class of 2009, who died at war in the following years.
“I watched them graduate from the best place of human formation and leadership anywhere in the world,” Donahue said. “They did not die in vain. They died as they lived: duty, honor and country. These are heroes who gave much.”
Donahue addressed the difficult questions that survivors of combat face for the rest of their lives. He quoted Pope John Paul II and echoed the hope of the late pope’s wish: “No more war, war never again.”
The monsignor decried war as just a simple fact of life.
“War is a result of the breakdown in communication with the human heart.”
Donahue also quoted a 22-year-old’s letter to his family, in the case of his death. That soldier was killed, but his message lives on.
“My death will mean nothing if you stop now,” Donahue read from the letter. “I know it will be hard, but I gave my life so you can live, and not just live, but live free.”
Post 23 Commander Kirk Seaver welcomed the audience and seven members of the Legion advanced the colors, including Duane Johnston, Kent Christenson, Ron Torgerson, Ron Montonye, Doug Meier, Ray Norsby and Larry Fjellanger.
Legion Auxiliary president Tootie Fueller shared the stories of the red poppies that are worn on Memorial Day. The tradition started in the 1920s and was inspired by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McCrae.
“The poppies bloomed in abundance on battlefields of France and seemed to be a reminder of the blood shed,” Fueller said.
She shared that 40 states have veterans paid to assist in building and spreading the poppy tradition.
“I hope this gives you continued pride in wearing the poppies made by people who continue to care about our great country of America,” Fueller said.
Seaver delivered the commander’s message with a theme of paying it forward.
“We don’t just honor those with the highest medals or those who were in the most hellacious gunfire,” Seaver said. “We honor the more than millions who have lost their lives.”
Seaver shared the story of 8-year-old Miles Eckert in Ohio. The boy was just four months old when his father, Sgt. Gary Andy Eckert, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. The boy found a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant and soon passed the bill on when Lt. Col. Frank Dailey, a stranger, entered the restaurant. The gesture was in honor of his father.
The bill was wrapped in a note, which read: “Dear Soldier – my dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this 20 dollars in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.”
The Memorial Day service was followed by Seaver placing a wreath at the memorial on the hall’s south side. The American Legion members then did a 21-gun salute. The afternoon concluded with Theresa’s chicken dinner hosted by the Legion Auxiliary.
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