Monday, May 30, 2016

May you have a reflective Memorial Day. Ponder days gone by and heroes lain to rest. We had a shortened Memorial Day commemoration at Mount Vernon today. We cut it short as a storm front loomed on the horizon and we broke ranks just as it started to rain. The lightning strikes were what really prompted us to cut it short but we also had concerns about our new sound system getting rained on.
The ceremony was well attended as always. I didn't count but I'd have to guess that about 200 Mount Vernon residents attended in addition to the MVHS Band and Choir. I'm saddened that we had to cut the ceremony short and weren't able to hear all of the planned music, but I had numerous people approach me later and thanked me for the sound judgement of curtailing the service.
I was able to give my speech and had a few compliments on it too. Here it is as I presented it. I wanted to stress the importance of community and that of service. 

Good morning, Thank all of you for being here today. I’m Mike Woods and I live here. Mount Vernon is my home.
It is said that, “ a soldier doesn’t go to war because he hates what’s in front of him, but rather he loves what is behind him.” I would have to say that this is still true. On this Memorial Day we pause to remember those brave people who gave up their tomorrows so we could have our today. None of them intended on sacrificing their lives but accepted the possibility that it might happen.
They sacrificed not for gold or glory but rather out of a love for their community. That is what makes their loss all the more painful for those they left behind. Parents, spouses, children and friends all have to carry on with a ragged hole torn in the fabric of their lives.
As for me, I left Mount Vernon shortly after I graduated in 1977 to join the army. I became a career soldier and served almost 22 years in uniform. I started out as an airborne infantryman – a paratrooper in the 82d airborne division and I later passed the test to become a Special Forces NCO – a Green Beret. I had some of the finest role models a soldier could have, men like 1SG Cold Steel Crews, LTC Keith Bonn, SFC Robert Williams, SGM Rodolfo Teodosio, Cedar Rapids native Colonel "Smoking Joe" Rozak and Lieutenant General David Fridovich.
Along with these mentors and role models, I have also had the good fortune of meeting two of my three heroes over the years. I never got to meet my boyhood hero John Wayne, a patron of Special Forces in his own right, but I did get to meet Lieutenant General James Gavin of the 82d and Colonel Roger Donlon of Special Forces.
General Gavin was the commander of the 82d Airborne Division during World War Two and later the US ambassador to France. Colonel Donlon was a Green Beret and the first Medal of Honor awardee of the Vietnam War. Both men were very gracious and respectful, both of them had lives well lived beyond the military, and placed greater importance on service to their communities than their military service.
Many of the veterans I've encountered at the VA hospital and elsewhere have similar regard their communities. Most of them shared their war stories with great relish, but they were more proud of their accomplishments after the service and those of their children or grandchildren -- their military service little more than a footnote in a life well lived.
However, there are others whose service remains quite vivid and to the forefront of almost every waking moment either through physical or psychological trauma and we should do our best to care for them. People don’t make those kinds of sacrifices for personal gain, but rather out of love for their community.
Two years ago at our Memorial Day ceremony we embarked on a journey to build a new veterans memorial. Our fundraising efforts to date have brought us over halfway to our goal and have allowed us to begin construction of phase one of the project.
We have over 400 names on our cemetery roster with at least one veteran of the War of 1812, a few from the Mexican/American War, there are 58 civil war veterans and we have veterans from every conflict since. We have fathers and sons, Mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters buried on this peaceful piece of land. I encourage all of you to walk through the older section of the cemetery where you will find tombstones that have become unreadable over time with names and legacies slipping into oblivion. That in part is what we hope to prevent, by etching veterans’ names into our memorial we hope to preserve the memory of people who sacrificed so much for their community, state and nation.
The construction you see before you is a part of a legacy and of a promise. The legacy has been handed down from generation to generation by people have touched our lives by their military service and service to our community, each sacrifice adding to the ones before them until we have a community with a strength born of freedom.  Hahn-Howard Post 480 has assumed the responsibility of building a memorial that befits the sacrifices made on our behalf and fulfills the promise that we shall never forget.
The response to our mission has been overwhelmingly positive. The city of Mount Vernon has assisted us both financially and logistically by preparing the site for construction – city crews removed the flagpole and moved the small memorial stone to its new location at veterans’ memorial park. Other civic organizations like the Masons, the Rotary Club and the Lions have all been very generous with their gifts. Local businesses have sought us out to offer their support including architect Jim Baty and Contractor Chad Kelly. Then there are the people of the community who continue to generously make donations to build a memorial that will properly recognize the sacrifices made in our name.
Some people ask, "but why a memorial?" Societies have built structures to honor the dead for millennia. They provide a focal point for commemorations like this that allows our community to gather together to honor the sacrifices that were made on our behalf. Memorials are also places of quiet individual reflection, a place that provides an opportunity to mourn, but also to celebrate lives well lived.
This memorial will also have a feature that is unlike most others. We’re planning for an educational aspect that will allow the visitor to see our community’s part in regional, national and international events. To that end we’ve asked local historians Richard Thomas, Bob Meeker and Richard Peters to lend their talents and knowledge to the task that we hope to finalize in the near future.

In closing I would like to thank all of you for coming today to help honor the fallen. Thank you to the Mount Vernon Community School District and their students for giving up a glorious day to provide the music and finally thank those who died to allow us to have the freedom to come here today. God Bless you and God Bless America.

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