Mount Pulaski Memorial Day Address


Col. Waldo E. Bertoni, USAF, ret.

       Cmdr. McCue, Pastor Treptow, honored guests and fellow citizens.  Observing Memorial Day in Mt. Pulaski has been particularly meaningful to us.  For many years, Rosalie and I have been fortunate to attend these ceremonies as citizens of Falls Church, Virginia.  This year, we are not only fortunate, but also honored that, after an absence of almost 60 years, we are attending as citizens of Mt. Pulaski.  It feels so good to be back home!

       We citizens of Logan County have a close historical tie to Memorial Day.  In 1839, with the help of Abraham Lincoln, Logan County was established and named after Dr. John Logan.  His son, John Alexander Logan, was an Illinois congressman, senator, and Civil War General.  To honor the Civil War Dead, he conceived the idea of Memorial Day and inaugurated its first observance in May, 1868 - 138 years ago.

       Let there be no doubt that I represent an older generation - one that Tom Brokaw made famous as the "Greatest Generation".  Believe me, neither I nor any of my friends, had any foretelling of such a daunting label.  Many of us remembered and lived with the great depression, bread lines, massive unemployment, and dust bowls, and then fought another "war to end all wars".  When one looks at our history since then - the Cold War with Russia, Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Kosovo, Desert Storm, 9/11 and our current involvement in the Middle East, it is difficult not to be discouraged by the world we live in.

       But, we can take hope from one constant in this uncertain world - that is the courage, the dedication, the patriotism, and the self-sacrifice of our American service men and women.  These patriots, having enjoyed the benefits of living in a free society, have fought and are fighting to help other less fortunate societies - even at the sacrifice of their own lives.  We are here this Memorial Day to honor those heroes who have served to protect our country and given their lives to help others gain the freedoms we enjoy.

       Since our move back to Mt. Pulaski, we do have one regret.  For most of the 32 years we lived in the Washington, D.C. area, we attended Easter Sunrise Services at the Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater.  When one looks out upon row after row of white grave markers surrounding the amphitheater, one cannot help but feel the sadness and the greatness that those markers represent.  We, who have lived through the events of the past 65 years, have little difficulty remembering our heroes.  However, as a senior citizen, it is most encouraging to me to see the young people who have come to this ceremony - a ceremony that is both solemn and joyous.  Solemn because we are here to grieve for those who have given their lives and for the families they have left behind; but joyous in the recognition that this nation is still producing young men and women who honor and respect the ideals set forth by our forefathers for over 200 years.

       In closing, I want to share with you a short essay I received recently.  It is by Otto Whittaker and is entitles:  "I was born on July 4, 1776".
                    "I am Nathan Hale and Paul revere.  I stood at Lexington and fired the shot heard
                      around the world.  I am Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.  I remember the
                      Alamo, the Main and Pearl Harbor.  You can look at me and see Ben Franklin walking
                      down the streets of Philadelphia with his bread loaf under his arm.  You can see Betsy
                      Ross with her needle.  I am Eli Whitney and Stephen Foster, I am Tom Edison and Albert
                      Einstein and Billy Graham.  I am Horace Greeley, Will Rogers, and the Wright Brothers.
                      I am George Washington Carver, Jonas Salk, and Martin Luther King.  I am Longfellow,
                      Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Paine.  Yes, I am the nation, and
                      these are the things that I am.  I was conceived in freedom and, God willing, in freedom
                      I will spend the rest of my days.  May I possess always integrity, the courage, and the
                      strength to keep myself unshackled, to remain a citadel of freedom and a beacon of hope
                      to the world."

       In this essay, Whittaker could be referring to our country or to our flag, either or both would be appropriate.  However, on this particular day, I think of this essay as a salute to the American Service Men and Women who have given their lives - who possessed "the integrity, the courage, and the strength" to help "keep this country unshackled, to remain a citadel of freedom and a beacon of hope to the world".

       Since last Memorial Day, we have lost 22 of our own patriots.  Please share with me memories of these servicemen:

Wallace McGee  82  John Stopher  83
Vincent "Cap" Ey  91 John "Daniel" Davis  66
Harry Van Hook  89     Wayne Febus  80
Duane Shanle  77 Ralph Wubben  84
Edward Morris  76      Rudy Baumhardt  85
Robert Steinfort  87 Ernest Billington  89
Raymond Galbraith  72   Herman Bohn  89
Richard Mueller  81 John West  79
Jim Cooper  56   Robert Mayer  72
Davy Lee Creager  75 Terry Fisher  65
Leslie "Red" Braun  87 Bill Hawk  83

       A wise man said, "like a breath to the human body, remembrance makes the spirit live".  The greatest gift we can give to our fallen and to the loved ones who survived them is the gift of remembrance.

       The men and women who have give their lives in service to our country deserve to be remembered more than just one day a year.  Keep them and their families always in your hearts and memories.

       Thank you.