Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, we are approaching Memorial Day, a time to honor those servicemembers who gave their very lives--what Abraham Lincoln described as ``the last full measure of devotion.'' When Lincoln spoke those words, he was dedicating a modest ``soldiers cemetery'' in a Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg. Today Gettysburg and the address Lincoln gave there hold a special place in our national memory. In fewer than 300 words, President Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in the history of this great Republic.
In that speech, Lincoln said what was known: that it is good and right to dedicate a place to honor the brave servicemembers who rest beneath it. But more importantly, he put into words what was felt: that the best way to honor the dead is to remember their sacrifices, and dedicate our lives to the Nation for which they gave their lives.
What we now call Memorial Day was begun in the aftermath of that war, with two dozen cities and towns across the United States laying claim to being the birthplace of what was then called Decoration Day. Generations later, America paused in the aftermath of World War I, a massive conflict that inspired the poem, ``In Flanders Field,'' about the lives the war took and the bond between the living and the dead. That poem roused the convictions of an American teacher named Moina Michael, who clung to the image of the red poppies in Flanders Field, which grew above the graves of World War I servicemembers. Miss Michael vowed to ``keep the faith'' with those who had died and to wear a red poppy as a sign of that pledge. She recorded her commitment in a poem she called ``We Shall Keep the Faith,'' which reads, in part:
We Cherish, too, the poppy red,
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies
Miss Michael spent the rest of her life raising money for veterans and survivors in need, by selling red poppies to honor the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our Nation. Through the sale of poppies made by disabled veterans, she raised approximately 200 million dollars for veterans and their survivors.
Today our great Nation steps further into the fifth year of our current conflict in Iraq, and our sixth year in Afghanistan. As we ponder how best to honor those who have died in these conflicts and in all prior wars, we can look to our history to find words and actions to guide us. Just as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address turned sentiment into prose, Miss Michael turned it into poetry, and then into action. For ourselves, we can look at the sacrifices of those who have served and then look within ourselves to honor them with our lives.
For myself, I pledge my continued best effort to make certain that those who serve receive the thanks and the benefits and services they earned by their service and for those who gave their all, that their survivors are likewise given all they need.
May 24, 2007