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Hello all. Thank you for coming out on this chilly, gray morning. It’s not the most ideal weather for a gathering, so I especially appreciate your making the effort to come here today and pay tribute to our veterans. For my part of this ceremony, I’d like to tell you a story:

Once upon a time, I stood at the side of the road on Guy Park Avenue and watched the Amsterdam Veterans honor their comrades by walking a length of the city road to their WWI memorial. The day was brisk but beautiful. Clusters of my neighbors stood reverently, clasping their coats against a light wind with gloved hands, smiling and greeting folks they’d known their whole lives. Much like today, they were a mix of hats, scarves, and wool in the colors of autumn… gold, plumb, brown and rust… most were older folks and a few families brought together several generations of the same height, weight and hair pattern. They talked quietly with each other, noting the falling leaves, fleeting clouds, and onset of winter in the coming weeks.

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I held the hand of my little boy, Ian, who at the time had to have been about four or five years old. We were excited and happy to be at our first official parade in our partnership as mother and son. He was so young and perfect; a sprite with an immediate smile and mischievous glint in his eye. He could not imagine how deep my love for him was because, for a child, it is a given. He was born into the brilliant embers of my attention. He did not know of my long wait for him or my doubt that I’d ever be lucky enough to have a child. I gripped his mittened hand tightly as the procession started.

We watched as the veterans from wars long gone began to pass our station. A scattering of very elderly men that had survived the “War to End All Wars” and eight decades were driven in cars, still proudly wearing their dress caps, insignias, awards, badges and accoutrements. These men sat in stoic silence, weathered as the dried leaves, bearing witness to the time that had passed and memories that would soon be remembered only in books, instead of recounted person-to-person. They seemed to not notice the gathering around them. Their clouded eyes looked ahead in anticipation of their destination.

Men and a few women of WWII, who at the time were then in their late sixties and early seventies followed these vets. This was a larger group of soldiers than the first, still vital and dignified, survivors of a war of unthinkable brutality and loss. They wore, and still wear, their experiences with such pride. They had lived through a time of unsullied patriotism and vigorous optimism, when you could count on God, and County and your neighbor. The charm of that period lives on in the music of the 40’s… still lively with syncopated jazz riffs and sadly sweet, romantic ballads. Though their marching step was somewhat unpolished, they walked with a unity that can only come from the knowledge of their sure achievement in saving the world from tyranny.

Next came the men of the Korean War, men in their late-forties and early-fifties. This war is sadly referred to as the “Forgotten War.” These men walked with a solid gait, having persevered without the public accolades and attention of those that had served in the decade before or those that would come after. These soldiers walked with some ease and casually waved to the bystanders. As I watched, I understood that, had my father lived a longer life, he would have marched with this group. I squeezed my son’s hand and pointed out the beat of their feet on the pavement, and noted that my heart beat with that time.

The next wave of soldiers started to pass us. The Vietnam War Veterans were not much older than I, and I thought about my friends that had fought in that war. The times were so tumultuous and the decision to enter the military was more controversial than at any time that had preceded it in all of history. As well, the mechanisms of war were much more horrific and deadly. I thought of Kevin, a happy-go-lucky kid in our neighborhood that had come back from the sweltering humidity of Vietnam changed… more serious with an uncharacteristic edge in his demeanor. To my knowledge, he never spoke of his time there… not to his family and certainly not to us, his hometown friends. That he and others had returned to a nation that questioned the actions of these young men and women still haunts our days. These young soldiers made the commitment to serve our government without public reverence for their decision. That is a wound that must never be delivered again.

Contemporary men and women in service, marching crisply in unison, followed the Vets of the 60’s and 70’s. Some had already served in the Gulf and some could expect to be shipped to areas of conflict around the world at any time. They looked formidable in their desert combat uniforms, all tautly following command. I looked across the road at a mother anxiously scanning the unit for the unforgettable face of her child, and watched for the moment of recognition as she located the object of her love. Brimming with pride, she yelled out a name with joy and pointed rapidly so that her friends would not miss out on the gift of this moment. The realization of the sacrifice that she and her family had made was beginning to reach me like a scent carried lightly on a breeze.

The ROTC students from Amsterdam High School followed in step, their beautiful, unlined faces intent on their task. They lead younger children informally walking together from the boy scouts, girl scouts and, tying it all up at the end, the youngest Webelos and Brownies that may begin this march at age seven. Suddenly, the breath was pulled from my chest and the full impact of this parade of souls came to me. I stared incredulously down at the little boy at the end of my arm and could see the whole of this impossible offering.

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The oldest veteran to the youngest, silly sprout walks a path that tears our loved ones from the warmth of our hearth and sends them to the edge of the earth for the ideals our government is built on.

Regardless of politics, public furor, danger or exhaustion, our soldiers serve willingly, selflessly and courageously that we may continue to live in peace and prosperity. They enter into situations of loneliness, peril, boredom and chaos that others may have hope. Those that have marched in parades have returned to us. Remember also that others have not, or that they have returned to us broken and in need of our full support as a nation, as a community, as friends and as family.

THIS is what this day, Veterans Day, is all about.

Having grasped this concept, as desperately as I had held the hand of my son so long ago, let us all acknowledge that there can be no greater calling than that of a soldier and extend our deepest gratitude for the gifts that they have given so freely to us.

Thank you to the Veterans Commission for continuing this tradition and thank you with all of our hearts to each and every veteran gathered here today. God bless you and keep you, forever and always.

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Good Morning. I’d like to thank the Veteran’s Commission for once again allowing me the honor to speak on behalf of our city; to once again memorialize how much we appreciate the men and women that have given so freely of their lives to serve this country we all love.

For the many years I have been afforded this opportunity, I have always been struck by the very intimate nature of this sacrifice. Young men and women leave kitchen tables and warm beds, jobs, boyfriends, wives, mothers and children to enter the military. It is an unimaginably poignant choice to make, and I have always understood this decision with sympathy from the perspective of a civilian.

But I cannot begin to understand the depth of this decision, as I have not the experience or knowledge of a veteran.

I cannot ever know what a soldier knows.

I cannot know the weight and force of the resolution to serve – to leave family and community for a higher purpose. A soldier sacrifices comfort, safety and autonomy for the comfort, safety and freedom of those they love and those in need.

A soldier must, with faith and willingness, turn one’s life completely over to others. One must commit, must train, and must learn to march in unison with precision, each thundering step a testament to tenacity.

A soldier may be deployed in times of peace or times of war to any corner of the world and must bear up under merciless conditions, which are sometimes as routine as loneliness or boredom, but sometimes so unbearably painful they leave permanent mental or physical scarring.

Soldiers know heat, humidity, cold, separation, stress and fear. More than that, they know faith and courage. They know the close relationship that humility has with pride.

A soldier must be able to take orders and give one’s undivided effort to see that they are executed, as an essential member of a squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, brigade, division and corps. Our soldiers make up the greatest military in the world and know, in the fullest sense, dignity and camaraderie.

Soldiers know complete and selfless devotion. They will shelter, support, or fall for the soldier standing next to them, in front of them, or behind.

Becoming a soldier, being a soldier, being a veteran is not merely a decision; it is a calling. It is the response of a special few that have answered in the affirmative – that they would become the caretakers of this nation’s defense and ensure the continued quality of life we enjoy on these quiet streets of manicured lawns, simple gardens, and homes of wood and brick. These special few know the ultimate cost of their gift of love and commitment to our community.

The men and women that stand among us today as veterans have proudly given years of their lives for our way of life and the beautiful flag that marks our destiny.

The words of General Douglas MacArthur are particularly fitting in this regard:

“The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes, which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image… However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for country is the noblest development of mankind.”

The truth of these words is evidenced as communities across the nation commemorate the selfless generosity of our men and women in uniform.

Today, on Veteran’s Day, we celebrate the extraordinary offering you have given to each of us. We mark your time and efforts with words, spectacle and memorials, but can never thank you enough for knowingly surrendering the innocence of your youth that we may pass our days protected from aggression and treachery.

To each veteran that stands here today, under the heavy sky and waving flag, our words are not enough.

Know, as only a soldier can know, that you have our deepest respect, gratitude and love.

God bless.

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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.

Amen.

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prayer of the
farm workers’ struggle

Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people’s plight.

Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.

Help me take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can be free at last.

Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.

Give me honesty and patience;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.

Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.

Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.

Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.

Amen.

– César E. Chávez

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bruce

This one ages better than wine.

Thunder Road

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s bustin’ open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks

Oh oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
Tonight we’ll be free, all the promises will be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind, so Mary climb in
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win

– Bruce Springsteen, 1975

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Do you think I am going to help anybody? No! Oh, no, no, no, no, no! Don’t expect me to be of help to anyone. Nor do I expect to damage anyone. If you are damaged, you did it; and if you are helped, you did it. You really did! You think people help you? They don’t. You think people support you? They don’t.


There was a woman in a therapy group I was conducting once. She was a religious sister. She said to me, “I don’t feel supported by my superior.” So I said, “What do you mean by that?” And she said, “Well, my superior, the provincial superior, never shows up at the novitiate where I am in charge, never. She never says a word of appreciation.” I said to her, “All right let’s do a little role playing. Pretend I know your provincial superior. In fact, pretend I know exactly what she thinks about you. So I say to you (acting the part of the provincial superior), ‘You know, Mary, the reason I don’t come to that place you’re in is because it is the one place in the province that is trouble-free, no problems. I know you’re in charge, so all is well.’ How do you feel now?” She said, “I feel great.” Then I said to her, “All right, would you mind leaving the room for a minute or two? This is part of the exercise.” So she did. While she was away, I said to the others in the therapy group, “I am still the provincial superior, O.K.? Mary out there is the worst novice director I have ever had in the whole history of the province. In fact, the reason I don’t go to the novitiate is because I can’t bear to see what she is up to. It’s simply awful. But if I tell her the truth, it’s only going to make those novices suffer all the more. We are getting somebody to take her place in a year or two; we are training someone. In the meantime I thought I would say those nice things to her to keep her going. What do you think of that?” They answered, “Well, it was really the only thing you could do under the circumstances.” Then I brought Mary back into the group and asked her if she still felt great. “Oh yes,” she said. Poor Mary! She thought she was being supported when she wasn’t. The point is that most of what we feel and think we conjure up for ourselves in our heads, including this business of being helped by people.

Do you think you help people because you are in love with them? Well, I’ve got news for you. You are never in love with anyone. You’re only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person. Take a minute to think about that: You are never in love with anyone, you’re in love with your prejudiced idea of that person. Isn’t that how you fall out of love? Your idea changes, doesn’t it? “How could you let me down when I trusted you so much?” you say to someone. Did you really trust them? You never trusted anyone. Come off it! That’s part of society’s brainwashing. You never trust anyone. You only trust your judgment about that person. So what are you complaining about? The fact is that you don’t like to say, “My judgment was lousy.” That’s not very flattering to you, is it? So you prefer to say, “How could you have let me down?”

So there it is: People don’t really want to grow up, people don’t really want to change, people don’t really want to be happy. As someone so wisely said to me, “Don’t try to make them happy, you’ll only get in trouble. Don’t try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it irritates the pig.” Like the businessman who goes into a bar, sits down, and sees this fellow with a banana in his ear – a banana in his ear! And he thinks, “I wonder if I should mention that to him. No, it’s none of my business.” But the thought nags at him. So after having a drink or two, he says to the fellow, “Excuse me, ah, you’ve got a banana in your ear.” The fellow says, “What?” The businessman repeats, “You’ve got a banana in your ear. ” Again the fellow says, “What was that?” “You’ve got a banana in your ear!” the businessman shouts. “Talk louder,” the fellow says, “I’ve got a banana in my ear!”

So it’s useless. “Give up, give up, give up,” I say to myself. Say your thing and get out of here. And if they profit, that’s fine, and if they don’t, too bad!

– Anthony De Mello, SJ, 1931-1987

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