June 7, 2022
[Editor’s note: This is the full text of Major Worley’s Memorial Day speech at the Bannock County Veterans Memorial Building in Pocatello. That story is available here.]
Throughout this speech, I will sometimes use the word soldier as a synonym for all members of the armed forces, whether they be sailors, airmen, or marines. My fellow veterans will naturally accuse me of bias because I am in the Army. I want to assure them that this is only mildly true. In fact, I needed a simpler phrase, and after all, mankind has been fighting on foot with sword and spear long before we mastered the sea and the sky. The soldier is the genesis of the profession of arms.
Memorial Day is a day we have set apart as a people to remember and honor those who have died in the armed forces of the United States. But, like many American traditions, it has unfortunately been reduced in the hearts and minds of many of our fellow countrymen to simply a long weekend and a day off from work.
I want to thank the organizers of this event and all those who worked to put on events and displays like the Field of Heroes, and those who have made the effort to attend events like these. A nation is much more than a collection of people living in a specific place under the same government.
A nation is a group of people who share the common bonds of history, custom, tradition, and belief. This is true whether you are a first-generation American who has adopted America’s heritage as your own or if you can trace your ancestry to the thirteen original colonies. Without the common bonds of history and tradition, no nation can survive the test of time.
The blood of fighting men has protected our nation from foreign and domestic enemies for nearly two hundred and fifty years. However, the sword cannot cut against the erosion of time, but the memory of those who have wielded the sword in defense of America can.
In the Bible, in the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ makes the following statement: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
I know of no other words that better describe the pure motive of the soldier. War is brutal and complex, and in any human endeavor, there is always a mix of motives. Yes, on the battlefield, people are driven by fear, hatred, and ambition as well. However, beneath all this, the acts of heroism we recount from generation to generation are motivated by the love of God, love of county, and love for the man next to you in the formation.
A man may enlist out of hatred for the enemy, fear of the law, or to seek adventure and glory, but he will only leap on the grenade to save his friends out of love.
And in the grand scheme of our nation’s history, millions of American men and women have served in times of war because they were willing to sacrifice themselves so that others might live. As an unsung verse of our National Anthem reads, they placed themselves “Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!” Of these millions, hundreds of thousands laid down their lives for their friends and countrymen.
But what does this have to do with us? We are the living; they are the dead. How can we truly honor their sacrifice, and how can the sacrifices of generations past help us now?
There is a poem that attempts to capture the heroism of a battle from the days of the early Roman Republic that I believe helps us answer this question.
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.”
It has been said that a good death is its own reward. Our honored dead, whom we revere on Memorial Day, died so that others may live and so that we can be free.
When armies are called upon to defend their civilization from destruction, they place themselves in the breach to defend all that was, all that is, and all that may be.
This is the great covenant of civilization, that the living live to honor the dead and for those that are yet to be born.
On this day, we remember the dead. However, that memory should impress upon us a duty to live so that their sacrifice will carry forward from generation to generation. They died to preserve our freedom, so let us live to keep America free. We must commit to preserving in peace what so many preserved in war.
And if the darkness of war comes again, we must fill our hearts and the hearts of our children with the love of country necessary to face fearful odds for the ashes of our fathers and the temples of our God.
*Major David Worley is a commissioned officer in the Army National Guard and an Iraq War Combat Veteran. He is a Pocatello native and started his military career as an enlisted soldier in the 1-148 Field Artillery Battalion here in Pocatello.