Just some early morning thoughts from me to you…
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. 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.”
The Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln
Two-hundred and sixty-eight words delivered at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863, one-hundred and fifty years ago. Earlier that year, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln had issued his bold and just Emancipation Proclamation.
Fifteen thousand people were gathered that day around Cemetery Hill, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, primarily to hear Edward Everett deliver the major address for the dedication of the National Soldier’s Cemetery on the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War won by the Union Army just five months earlier on July 1—3, 1863. President Lincoln’s invitation to be at Gettysburg for that occasion to share “a few appropriate remarks” was as much an afterthought as it was the proper thing to do with regard to the President of the United States of America, even though the states were so much less than united at that moment in our history.
Edward Everett, a former United States Senator, and former Governor of Massachusetts, as well as former President of Harvard University, spoke eloquently for nearly two hours. President Lincoln shared his address at that solemn site in Gettysburg in about three minutes.
And all the while the Civil War raged on, and would continue to do so for another year and a half until General Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865 to General U.S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Those two-hundred and sixty-eight words, delivered in three minutes, were a prayer for our nation, and a call to duty—to those gathered that day and to us who have gathered throughout the ages.
A call for then and now “…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…”
It was a call to duty then and it is a call to duty now. A call which began with a recognition of those who sacrificed for us then, and a call to us today as we recognize on Veteran’s Day each year all those who have sacrificed for us down through the ages.
A call for then and now “…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.”
Those words asked the question of us as to whether or not we were willing to do that. They asked whether or not we were willing to answer that call to the foundations of this great nation of equality and justice for all. They asked it then, and they ask it of us now.
We wish we could find a sacrificial response to that call to duty in our governmental leaders, but sadly it is not there in great abundance—instead, only the desire to sacrifice others for their own personal agendas and advancement. For the most part, a devotion to duty and service to our nation goes wanting where it may be needed most for the good of our nation.
But we do find it everywhere else around us—in person after person from coast to coast and border to border, selflessly and sacrificially giving their last full measure of devotion to others. Certainly in our Veterans, and maybe even in you and me.
A dear friend of mine, who just happens to be my daughter-in-law’s dad, had the privilege of speaking to an assemblage of students in a local middle school in our area last week. Ole Nelson is a retired United States Air Force Lt. Colonel, having flown in over two-hundred and ninety combat missions in the Philippines and Vietnam during his career.
He told the eager students before him, that this day and this week where we pause to honor our Veterans is, of course, the right and proper thing for us to do. But this celebration is really about those of us who remain. Those brave men and women—our Veterans—who sacrificed for us and still do to this day—paid the price for you and for all of us, and in that service they handed us not only the mantel of freedom we enjoy, but with it the mantel of responsibility to carry forward the freedom for which they paid so dear a price.
It is a gift of freedom to us all, as well as a call to duty laid upon us. And a call to responsibility to stand up for all those others around us who need a hand up, a lift up, a defender in difficult times, and a friend when no one else seems to be.
My friend, Colonel Nelson, Ole, would know—because that is what he has done and continues to live out in his own life.
And that’s the life that President Lincoln and my friend were pointing us toward. A life we can find within ourselves that leaves a legacy of a willingness and devotion to answer the call to duty for others. An answer to the call to duty to make a difference in this world, which often begins with the lives that are right around us.
Today we recognize, remember and thank our Veterans. But the sacrificial traces of their lives should always remind us why they did what they did, and for whom they did it—you and me. And the echoes of those lives are calling us beyond ourselves and to a duty to do the same for all others around us now—and to pass on that mantel of freedom to those who will follow us.
What will your response be?
In His Name—Scott
Copyright 2013. Scott L. Whitaker. All rights reserved.