Editor’s Note: This is the speech Vietnam veteran and longtime Ramona resident, teacher, and coach Bill Tamburrino gave at Ramona VFW’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at Nuevo Memory Gardens Monday morning.
By Bill Tamburrino
I was born on Memorial Day 66 years ago. My grandparents called the holiday Decoration Day. After several years of thinking that the nation was celebrating my birth, I learned what Memorial Day is really all about.
Memorial Day is about saying thank you.
On Thanksgiving we give thanks for our country and our freedoms. On Memorial Day we give thanks to those who made this country and its freedoms possible. We give thanks, celebrate, and honor those who died while serving this great nation.
All that have served gave some. The ones we are honoring today gave all.
Who were those brave souls?
They were men and women, husbands, fathers and sons, wives, mothers and daughters.
They started dying for this nation before we became a nation. They continue to die as we honor them now. Plato has been right so far. Only the dead have seen the end of war.
They died on the land, on the sea, and in the air.
They volunteered and they were drafted.
They were rich and they were poor.
They were born in the United States and they immigrated to the United States.
They are represented by every ethnicity that has made America what it is today.
They were enlisted and they were commissioned.
They were E-1s and they were generals.
They were highly educated and they were illiterate.
They were Christians (Catholic and Protestant), Jews, Buddhist, Muslims, and many other traditional religions. They were atheist and agnostics.
Some died instantly from their wounds. Others died years later from the wounds, both mental and physical, that they suffered while serving.
For what reason did they make the ultimate sacrifice?
Those with a far better command of the English language have put into prose and poetry those reasons.
They died defending and protecting the Constitution of the United States. Some died defending and protecting a Constitution that really didn’t defend and protect them at the time of their deaths. They died so that it would.
They died so that we can enjoy liberty and justice for all even though we didn’t have liberty and justice for all of them when they died. In some cases we still don’t have liberty and justice for all of them now.
They died so that members of every race, color, creed could partake in the American Dream. Members of every race, color and creed gave all.
When color comes into play, I get confused. I know many Caucasians but I don’t know anybody who is actually white. I was born in East Los Angeles and I have been to Mexico, but I don’t know anybody who is brown. I have worked on an Indian reservation, but I have never seen a Native American who is red. I have served and taught in Asia, but I have never met a person who is yellow.
No matter what metaphor is used, there are no true colors when it comes to people, just different individual shades. The same is true with those we honor today. They were all individuals whose true colors were red, white, and blue.
Those who died serving this great nation were all very different, but they all had one very important thing in common. Chester Nimitz had witnessed what they had done on Iwo Jima and had them in mind when he said, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
The most famous American speech was given in Pennsylvania on a battlefield that was made into a national cemetery where tens of thousands died while serving. Its author, the 16th president of these United States, stated that we can never forget that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. Look around. We have not forgotten.
I have been to that battlefield, Gettysburg National Cemetery. I have been to the Garden of Stone at Arlington National Cemetery, I have been to the Acres of Honor at the Punchbowl National Cemetery of the Pacific, I have been to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. They have not been forgotten.
As I look around this cemetery I can see by the flags on the graves that they are not forgotten.
I have heard and seen on too many occasions an officer give a flag to a widow or mother or a father or a husband and say, “On behalf of a grateful nation.” Memorial Day verifies that we are truly a grateful nation, as well we should be.
You have done more than your patriotic duty by being here today. You have said thanks. You have honored the brave men and women who are represented by the red stripes on our flag.
You can do more today.
Go home. Go to a picnic. Go to a ball game. Enjoy a hot dog. Enjoy a hamburger. Enjoy a cold beer. Enjoy a cold drink. That is what they would want you to do. That is what they would do. They paid the ultimate sacrifice so that you can. We cannot celebrate or dedicate or consecrate better than they already have. But we can continue to say thanks.
I am going to end with a prayer. Prayer is a right that those we are honoring on Memorial Day have given to you and me. The prayer is a prayer of petition that has already been answered many times but still needs repeating over and over again. Feel free to repeat it after me.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!