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Monday, May 28, 2012

Jim's Speech for the Mattapoisett Memorial Day Commemoration

Here are Jim's remarks from today's Memorial Day commemoration event in Mattapoisett, MA. It was a lovely event and the weather was perfect. Emma and I tagged along and got to see this beautiful southcoast town, ending with an early dinner outside on the deck at Aidan's Pub in Bristol, RI on the way home.

I am honored to speak on behalf of the United States Navy and the Naval War College.  At the same time, it is humbling to realize how profoundly inadequate any words I can say will be to this solemn occasion.  Such was the valor of our honored dead.

What is Memorial Day?  Well, there are the obvious things.  It’s a day for fun.  It gives us an excuse to gather friends and family for a barbeque.  It’s when the community pool opens.  It’s the official start to summer.  And there’s nothing wrong with any of these things.

But there’s more to it than that.  Is Memorial Day about monuments?  Yes, in part.  Our nation excels at physical remembrances.  Think about the World War II, Korea, and Vietnam memorials in Washington.  There’s Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s memorial to the 54th Massachusetts on Boston Common—an elegy in bronze.  New Bedford erected a Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the turn of the 20th century to honor veterans of the Civil War.  In Newport we have a monument to remember students and alumni killed in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11.  Among them is a friend and shipmate of mine, Navy Lieutenant Commander Bob Elseth.

Such monuments are testaments in stone to Americans’ commitment to enshrine the fallen.  And they are everywhere.  Whether you’re here in Mattapoisett, in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, or visiting any city across this great nation of ours, monuments are nearby.  You can feel with your fingertips the names of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who gave their lives in defense of our country.

But there’s even more to Memorial Day than visiting these shrines to the fallen, reading inscriptions recounting their deeds, and marveling at their sacrifice.  War has a human face.  Where most of us see stone and metal carvings, some of us see faces.

The families, friends, and brothers-in-arms left behind see Marine Corporal Phillip McGrath of Glendale; Army Sergeant Edward Grace from South Dartmouth; Army Specialist Steve Gutowski of Plymouth; Army First Lieutenant Timothy Steele from Duxbury; Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Kevin Houston from West Hyannisport; Army Specialist Matthew Gallagher of North Falmouth; Army Sergeant Alan Snyder from Worcester; or Marine Sergeant William Woitowicz from Middlesex. 

I am heartened by the renaissance Memorial Day has undergone over the past decade.  Given the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other remote parts of the world, Americans appear newly conscious of the personal sacrifices warriors like these make—as do the families who wait on their return.  This awareness is woven into our shared American experience.  It transcends that which divides us, such as politics, cultural differences, and religion.  And that’s a good thing.  The fallen render valuable service from beyond the grave.  They remind us of the human dimension of war, and of our common heritage.

But there’s something to Memorial Day that runs deeper still.  I am a Navy man.  But let me pay tribute to an Army general who spoke wise words about Memorial Day not far from here.  In 1945, near the close of World War II, General George S. Patton spoke at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.  He declared that it was “foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.  Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

Now, Patton spoke too strongly.  He often exaggerated.  It is right and fitting that we mourn the fallen.  But he was right about where we ought to place the emphasis.  He was right to urge the living to cultivate a spirit of gratitude to the dead.  We should be grateful because of the ideals they upheld and their loyalty to their brothers-in-arms.

Patton was an avid student of history, and his words belong to a great tradition in American oratory.  In 1863, nearly 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln spoke on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  We will hear his complete Gettysburg Address in a few minutes.  It is a speech that remains eternally fresh.

Lincoln insisted that the living rededicate themselves to the high purposes for which the fallen lived and died.  For him the best way to honor the dead was to complete “the unfinished work” they had “so nobly advanced” and for which they had paid the ultimate price.  Indeed, Americans must “take increased devotion to that cause” for which “these honored dead ... gave the last full measure of devotion.”  Lincoln implored Americans to 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.”

So Lincoln and Patton insist that we do more than remember the fallen.  In Lincoln’s words, the men of Massachusetts I listed a moment ago gave their last full measure of devotion in Afghanistan this past year.

These are different times from 1863.  We fight not to preserve the Union or abolish slavery but to construct new—humane—governments in foreign lands.  We need not all agree with this cause.  Many do not.  Nevertheless, I believe Lincoln would ask us to pick up the standard—to take inspiration from men such as these—and to resolve that our own experiment in self-government shall continue to survive and prosper.  This remains a cause worth striving for.

How should we do it?  Gathering here is one way to show our appreciation and gratitude, and to refresh our own commitment.  We should, and must, keep doing it.  But how can we project the reverence we feel on this day throughout the other days of the year?

First and foremost, we must recognize that Memorial Day is more than a holiday.  It is an act of cultural upkeep.  The memory of past feats of arms fades quickly if not handed down from generation to generation.  It takes conscious effort on all our parts to preserve that bequest.  I therefore challenge you to teach youthful Americans about the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf—on behalf of beleaguered peoples elsewhere in the world—and on behalf of the liberty and freedom guaranteed by our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. 

This is hard to do in a social-media culture ruled by sound bites and “tweets.”  Stories rich in history and lofty ideals defy such cursory treatment.  But if we do our job well, good things will follow.  Future generations will understand that—politics aside—the act of pledging yourself to your country and being prepared to fight for the freedom of others remains a worthy endeavor.  They will volunteer to help veterans who are still with us.  They will comfort and assist the family that is grieving the loss of a service member.  They will visit those wounded in service to the nation and help them build new lives.  The spirit of self-sacrifice will live.

And our efforts on this Memorial Day will not have been wasted.

If I may, let me close by being parochial for a minute or two.  George Washington wrote:  “To be prepared for war is the most effectual means to promote peace.”  President Theodore Roosevelt, a great friend of the United States Navy, repeated these words in 1897 at the Naval War College.  The danger of being unprepared for war became obvious during the War of 1812, whose bicentennial the Navy and the nation are now observing.  Being ready is precisely why our College was established—to educate those who do business in great waters, in the skies overhead, and on faraway shores.

Our Navy is the most potent weapon of maritime battle ever forged. But it is also one of the world’s greatest instruments of peace and humanitarian assistance.  American seafarers serve on the ground in Afghanistan.  They defend our world’s oceans from piracy, working with friendly navies in places like the Indian Ocean.  They provide food, medicine, and comfort when natural disasters strike in places like the Philippines, Indonesia, or Japan.  This dual mission is why our latest recruiting poster shows an aircraft carrier conducting flight operations at night and tells us we can SLEEP TIGHT.  That’s what American naval power is about—deterring war, providing security so that nations may thrive, and comforting the afflicted in their hour of need.

General Patton can rest easy.  Men and women such as those he commemorated in 1945 still live.  I know; I work with them.  Not just our Navy but our Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps are in good hands.  It will remain so if we do our job—and make every day Memorial Day.

Thank you.

A few more photos from our trip to Mattapoisett

Monday, May 14, 2012

A few last photos from Reunion -- I promise!

My classmate's husband posted all the photos he took at Saturday's class party so I wanted to share this one of three of my best friends from High School. We haven't been all four of us at a Reunion together forever, maybe since High School.

Here is a photo of my favorite teacher in High School, Arna Margolis. I had her for two years of A.P. European History. She is retiring this year. She's with my classmate Mimi who flew all the way from Abu Dhabi where she and her husband teach at an International School.

Lastly, I loved the party favors -- these glasses were painted by a bunch of my classmates on the reunion organization committee. I got a yellow one and love it. It's much more festive drinking water if it's out of this glass!

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Solution to the Marriage Issue

Let's Separate Civil Government Unions from Religious Marriage

Maybe this idea is too simplistic and wouldn’t work, but I never or rarely read anything or hear anything that proposes this idea which seems so obvious to me.

I lived in Europe for most of my childhood and early teen years. In Belgium they have true separation of church and state when it comes to marriage/civil union.  The state is in charge of civil unions which are legally the same as marriages. To receive these legal rights you must have a civil ceremony before the state in the courthouse or town hall. If you also want to be married in a religious ceremony in the eyes of your church – whatever your faith – then you also have to have a church ceremony/wedding/marriage.  You do not have to have both, but to be recognized legally as a couple you need the state’s civil union, and to be married in the eyes of your faith you need a church ceremony.  After seeing how this works there I have never understood why in the United States, with our great tradition of separation of church and state we do NOT separate church and state when it comes to marriage.

To me this is so SIMPLE.  The States and Federal Government would control the legal institution of marriage (which we could call a civil union to differentiate it from religious marriage)  To receive LEGAL recognition of their union a couple would have to have a civil ceremony recognized by the State.  Then, if they want to also have a religious union/marriage that would be purely religious and governed by the rules/tenants of their particular religion or denomination. For example: the Episcopal church could recognize gay marriage and perform them, but the Catholic church would be free to NOT recognize gay marriages. It would be up to the individual church and denomination and the members thereof.

So, we all have to first get married or have our union recognized by the State.  Then if we want to – we can have a religious ceremony as well.  This takes religion OUT of the civil rights of partnerships AND it takes GOVERNMENT OUT of religious marriage.

So tell me where I am going wrong – because this really seems like a no brainer to me.  The key thing is that everyone is going to have to agree to call the civil/state/government marriage a civil union to differentiate it from marriage which would be a religious union, free to be defined by each church and denomination differently.

My gay friends can celebrate and make legal their committed relationships and if they are religious and in a church that accepts gay marriage then they can get married too.  My more conservative Christian friends are free to define marriage as only between a man and a woman in their churches. We the people of each State could then define civil union in a non-relgious and hopefully in more States more open and inclusive partnership.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More from thirty years later

I meant to include this photo comparison on my last post, so here it is now.

Here's me Spring 1982 in my Senior portrait photo from Bryn Mawr on the left and me last weekend about to go to my 30th reunion at Bryn Mawr.

It would have been fun to do a slideshow like this for everyone in our class -- or maybe not, maybe we don't want to be reminded of what we looked like 30 years ago.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A few thoughts thirty years after High School Graduation

I spent last weekend in Baltimore to attend my 30th High School Reunion events.Actually had a terrific weekend -- things look so much different with thirty years of perspective and experience. I must say though, that I'm glad I didn't look at my yearbook before I went. I did look at it after I got home and it made me remember all the things I didn't like about high school and how tough Senior year was with college pressure and because ALL my best friends had boy friends and I didn't. It also reminded me how intense (and possibly boring) I was in High School. I was voted "Miss G.P.A" and "Most Pessimistic" and my favorite saying was "I'll never make it!". Plus all of that intenseness didn't really get me anywhere. I didn't get into Yale or Princeton which was my ultimate goal. Ended up hating Swarthmore and transferring to Lafayette. I'm so glad I've lightened up since then. Unfortunately it looks like Emma's inherited a lot of my genetic code. Of course Jim isn't exactly a laid back person either.

I made it a long weekend and took the train down as part of the vacation. It was great to zone out in the quiet car and finish my latest book Smilla's Sense of Snow. I arrived in time for a glass of wine and an hour of chit chat with my sister and brother-in-law. Then it was off to Mom's where I stayed.

The whirlwind began on Friday with a trip out to Columbia to visit Jim's cousin Holly and meet her twin boys who are 8 months old. Mom and Kate came with me -- Kate loves to talk to other Mom's of twins. We had a great visit and I really enjoyed catching up with her.

Her cute guys

The fun continued with lunch at a new deli place in Cross Keys. I lived at Cross Keys for a year after college and worked in a store there during college -- so another old haunt. I had a great cob salad -- as good as Billy's here in Barrington. Next it was off to my niece and nephews school, Roland Park Elementary Middle School, to help out with Mia's Gym class. It was bicycle safety week so we helped a whole class of Kindergartners put on bike helmets and ride around an obstacle course. They were all so cute -- makes me remember when Emma was that age.

Next up was swimming lessons with the twins -- it was so warm on Friday that I borrowed as swim suit from my sister and we both went swimming in the outdoor pool! Then we rushed home to get ready for a Cocktail Party at our school, The Bryn Mawr School for Girls. All alumnae were welcome so my sister came too. Here we are ready to head over. My sister lives across the street from school which is very convenient.

After the Cocktail party some of us headed out to a bar for more talking etc.... My sister said it was one of the over 40s pick-up joints. It was loud and all the guys looked old there -- so glad I am not dating! Hope I never have to.

Saturday Bazaar and Gym Drill and Bryn Mawr. Kate and I headed over to shop at the vendors while Mia and Nick were at soccer with Daddy. It was nice to hang out together without kids. Then in the afternoon we marched with all my classmates of Class of 1982 in the beginning of the Gym Drill. It's the tradition for all the reunion classes to start of the Gym Drill by marching down the field. If you haven't experienced a Bryn Mawr Gym Drill then it's hard to describe. It's sort of a cross between country dances and a Hitler Youth rally. The classes spread out over the field and do group exercises in unison. Then each class starting with sixth grade does a different dance. Sixth Grade did an Asian Fan dance and Ninth grade always does a traditional Sword dance (with sticks instead of swords)

The big event was our class party on Saturday night. I was so exhausted from Friday and Saturday's talking and visiting that I didn't think I'd have enough energy to enjoy the party, but I managed to perk up and had a really good time. We had a Cinqo de Mayo party at a classmates house. We had 53 of us graduate in our class and 30 of us came back to reunion which is great. The husbands mostly hung out around the pool while we "girls" caught up. I must say that everyone looked great and we most certainly do not look our age! I ended up back at my good friend Liz's house with our two other good friends from High School and we sat on the porch and talked until past two in the morning! 

Sunday a last lunch out at Donna's in Cross Keys with Mom, Kate and her family and then another mostly relaxing train ride back to Providence. It was great to catch-up and reminisce, but none of us want to go back to High School -- we're really liking the view from up here in our late forties!