Editor’s Note: The following excerpts are from the Memorial Day keynote address as prepared for delivery by Greg Kelly, a lieutenant in the Boston Fire Department and a combat veteran who has served in both the Army and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lt. Kelly, 36, lives in Neponset with his wife and two children.
This year, our theme is to welcome home all of our Iraq veterans. This theme is appropriate because as of this past Dec. 31st, after eight years, the United States completed the military withdrawal from Iraq.
There are a lot of mixed emotions on Iraq. Should we have invaded or should we not have. Should we have withdrawn at this point, or will we live to regret having withdrawn after enduring the worst of it. Just the word “Iraq” means something different and brings out different emotions in each veteran who served there, …as we each had our own experiences, some good, some bad.
I think collectively, one emotion we should feel, is pride. The sacrifices you Iraq vets have made, the risks you took, and the character you showed, inspired one nation, and liberated another. That is a fact. Try not to burden your mind with reflections on difficult moments. Focus on the fact that you contributed to something so much bigger then your own personal interests.
You maintained an unbroken lineage of valor, that began with Minute Men, just a couple miles from here during the Revolution and has since endured civil war, world wars, wars in frozen mountain, murderous jungles and sand swept deserts.
Most importantly, you volunteered when your nation needed you. Some of us were cooks, and some were commandos, and everything in between. Each one, crucial in your own right to the overall effort, and together the most capable military ever fielded.
What becomes of Iraq going forward, remains to be seen. But you freed them from a dictator and without question, painstakingly gave them the building blocks they need to live free. It is up to the Iraqi people to earn and preserve their fragile democracy. You have planted the seeds of freedom in Iraq.
Now they must nurture those seeds into a strong tree of Liberty. This next phase of their pursuit of liberty .is theirs to win, and theirs to lose. Years down the road, we will be old and gray, and we will hold our heads high knowing, we stepped up when our nation went to war. We answered the call to arms like so many before us.
With each mission, we did the best we could with what we had to work with. Most people will grow old and pass, never having contributed so much, never having risked so much, never having made such a positive impact in lives of so many. You made a difference! You did it with honor, and in many cases, for you combat vets, you did it with exceptional valor!
It is my honor and with great pride that I can say to you, ‘Welcome home.’
With that said, and as you veterans know, our mission in Iraq is behind us, but our mission is not over. We are still at war. We have Americans that are in harms way as we speak, many of them, our friends and neighbors……. and even family members. We still have an enemy that is plotting and planning and adapting. We must not lose sight of this fact. This is a dynamic enemy we face. This is more complex then simply bring our soldiers home.
If we don’t muster the national character to figure a way to make being a terrorist -a most futile undertaking to the enemies of our nation,- then there will be plenty of fight left for our next generation to deal with.
That generation will remember this one as the generation that pretended the war was over, while the storm gathered around us. I always like the Winston Churchill quote, “Pray not for lesser burden, pray for stronger backs.”
In short, I’d like us to eliminate this threat, so my sons and their friends don’t have to deal with it. The mission is not over.
Additionally, we have so many wounded veterans to care for. We have many veterans that require advocacy in school and in the work force and in the halls of government. We actually have Veterans right now, who, after earning the right to go to the head of the civil service lists for jobs, being bypassed for ridiculous reasons. We have veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, facing disciplinary action in the work place, when what they need is a helping hand. Our mission is not over.
Memorial Day is an important day in our culture. How we conduct ourselves on this day, reflects on our culture. I read in the Dorchester Reporter that this observance has been held here at Cedar Grove since 1868. What a great reflection that is - on generation after generation, of this community.
So, why are we here? Why is this an important day for us? Two words, two timeless words, that have likely been repeated every year at Cedar Grove since 1868. They are annunciated so often that you must protect yourself from becoming desensitized to them: Ultimate sacrifice.
I want you to think about that for a minute. Think about what that means.
It means, for the warrior who gave all. I will not pursue any of my dreams. I will not ever accomplish my life’s goals. I will not be there to walk with my mother to church. It means I will never read my child another bedtime story, or teach them a lesson of life. It means I will not ever again embrace my wife, share a laugh, or help her negotiate life’s obstacles.
For so many young fallen warriors, it means- I will never marry the girl I love. Or, I will pass before ever having the chance to look into the eyes of my own child.
For the fallen it means I gave YOU survivors and YOU the protected a gift that I could only give but once. I gave you all of my dreams so you can pursue yours. I forfeited all of my hopes. I gave you all of my tomorrows.
To whom much is given, much is expected. We have a tremendous debt of gratitude owed to our fallen heroes. However, simply being gracious is not enough. We must memorialize them. We must remember them. We must honor their sacrifice by living by the example they have set.
Today, fewer then one percent of American families are military families. These families are the Guardians of the republic.
In WWII every American knew what a Blue star in the window meant, a family member from that household was serving in the war. A lot of people don’t realize this today, because so few Americans serve our nation in uniform and the war has little or no daily impact them. Though I’m quite sure this community is above average, as it always has been.
I can’t stress to you enough the sacrifices being made by our military families. Some people are stressed when a spouse go away for a few nights for business, these Blue Star family members kiss their loved one good bye for anywhere between nine months and forever.
When people pass by a war memorial, ……..you may see a name, ……maybe a distant date, and a distant battlefield. To the Gold Star family, its not distant at all. Their loved one dies every day!
But don’t think for a second that they want or need our pity. They don’t. What they need is for us to honor and respect and love their fallen hero! They need us to know, that they are not names on a wall, but a human soul as important as you and me and our loved ones.
People can quote at length the stats of famous millionaire athletes. Some of these gifted entertainers….. are even described as heroes! For being good at playing games. Well our fallen heroes weren’t playing games, they were engaged in mortal combat!
And you can check their stats. Many of our fallen heroes from right here from Massachusetts, have received the Bronze Star for Valor, the Silver Star for Gallantry, a Service Cross for exceptional heroism, and in the case of SFC Jarod Monti, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.
I have had the distinct privilege to work with and meet so many Gold Star families in my work for the Mass Fallen Heroes Memorial team. I can tell you, there is no more inspiring company to keep.
A fitting quote that our friend and veteran advocate Tommy Lyons from the Semper Fi society often uses: “Poor is the nation that has no heroes. Shameful is the nation that having them, forgets.”
Finally, one last message, to the young people present: I was not much of an athlete growing up, and to be sure I was not much of a student.
But I was able to excel in much more important endeavors, in large part from the things I learned growing up in this neighborhood, from many of the people in attendance here today.
This whole world is yours for the taking.
The only thing that can stop you from accomplishing anything in life is you! You may have to work harder then others to accomplish your goals. I know I did, but you have not failed until you quit.
Never quit! Never benefit at someone else’s expense. If someone is knocked down in life, help them up.
Never lose sight of your moral compass. Its always right on.
If some thing seems like its wrong, it is. Take an other course.
Don’t be too cool to pray. A friend once said to me, I don’t believe in luck and I don’t believe in coincidence, because the closer I get to God, the more coincidences I have.
Remember, all the excuses and tails of woe in the world cannot diminish this truth, Only you can stop you.