I’d like to thank the Veteran’s Commission for once again allowing me the honor of speaking at this Annual Memorial Day Ceremony. I can honestly say that this is one of the greatest privileges afforded my office. Devoting these moments to the tremendous loss our nation has suffered is an appropriate way to share our feelings of faith and gratitude born of heavy grief.
As is the case in years past, I am mindful of how syncopated the elements are with the occurrences of this day and how they echo with the gravity of our common experience. Clouds have slowly worked their way through the night across a waxing moon – warm and unsettled – laden with moisture that may bring showers today. The air around us is heavy with expectancy – the enormity of the moving gray-blue sky above us stretches as far as our imagination and our memory. The breeze carries our heartbreak lightly amongst us. The flag stirs with our hearts.
Our hearts. We hold our loved ones in our hearts.
Perhaps you have noticed the many red hearts that are strewn today on the hillside beside the monument. There are precisely 3,727 hearts that represent every child enrolled in the Greater Amsterdam School District. It took me three days to cut these hearts out of construction paper, which is plenty of time to recognize the incredible gift that each child is, imbued with naiveté, laughter, mischief, talent and promise. It is cliché, but true, that these children are our future. They are the reason we work difficult jobs and strive to make our community and world a better place.
These hearts represent 3,727 living, breathing, inspiring reasons to be free and to live well.
And as we are considering the very large number of children that populate our elementary schools, middle school and high school, know this: that well over 3,727 children have perished as soldiers around the world since September 11, 2001… in fact, precisely 1,984 soldiers have perished in Afghanistan and 4,486 have given their lives in Iraq. 6,470 bright-eyed, dedicated and hopeful lives have been snuffed out. Add to that other military fatalities around the world in that time and you approach a number that is almost double the number of hearts you see around you. More than twice the number of children we send innocently off to school every day.
6,740 is a startling number, but it is nothing. In our two hundred years of proud US history, military losses to the violence of war have totaled 1,306,000 beating hearts. The Civil War alone claimed an unimaginable 625,000 lives. World War I took 117,000 lives; World War II took 405,000 lives; the Korean War took 37,000 lives; and the Vietnam War extinguished the lives of 58,000 men and women, though ask some of the men here and you will know that most were only boys… their best friends and family members. I imagine that 1,306,000 hearts would cover all of Veterans Field and then some.
Look out at the hearts. Know the value of each life they represent. We lost more than these anonymous hearts, or names on a monument, or numbers that are easily tallied. We’ve lost our young ones and loved ones and unique souls that will never know another kiss of daylight.
And we continue to pay in lives today around the world. Two more lives were added to this number in Afghanistan over night.
Our hearts break from this knowledge and we share this realization in the truest sense of community. Our communal heart, that is the family of Amsterdam, shares this pain for all Americans.
We must never forget that these brave young warriors gave everything so that we would live our lives to the fullest. We must never forget that these individuals, with lives to realize and loves that were timeless, died as soldiers fighting for the principles that make our country great… liberty, honor, valor, commitment, and selfless service to others.
Our city and country have lost more than we can know.
And yet, we must know gratitude. For God has granted us not only those that have given their lives for our peace and prosperity, but a community that honors our dead, and veterans that continue to dutifully care for the memories of our fallen heroes.
Amsterdam’s veterans are the living embodiment of our city’s service to our nation, representatives who served in all the wars of living memory. They stand here, not just in their own right, but also for all those who cannot.
Today, we will again be honoring several individuals that had served so proudly by awarding them the Amsterdam Veteran Service Medal. To these valiant individuals, we owe our continued thanks and support.
And to those that proudly wear our uniform and honor our flag around the world today, we owe our praise and deepest appreciation. We all pray, come back to us safely in God’s hands.
Before you leave today, please take a heart from the ground, in stillness and with respect, and keep it – that you may be reminded of the calling that lead our children away, never to return. Recall all that we have lost and all that we hold dear, and draw closer as a community because of what we so sadly, but so necessarily, know in our hearts.