Fellow soldiers keep the faith, however. On May 28, 2005, I delivered a brief Memorial Day speech at the Travis County International Cemetery. The place is one of those plots of ground with a decidedly checkered past. In the 19th century, it was a "paupers graveyard." Today, a group of Hispanic veterans, Tejanos in Action, tends the graves of indigent American veterans buried in the cemetery.
The ceremony was simple. A Tejanos honor guard conducted a flag ceremony. A bugler played taps, and the honor guard fired a 21-gun salute. I kept the speech short -- and here's the gist of it:
"... At one time, this cemetery is what another era called a potter's field ... a gravesite for the destitute, for the disenfranchised, for the socially disdained, for those grand society might conveniently forget.
"... Tejanos in Action has changed that sad legacy ... for this cemetery is now dedicated to remembering, not forgetting. Thank you and your organization for this gift, which enriches our history and in doing so enriches our spirit and ... our democracy. The mission of each generation is to take what we have and do better, do more with it. Liberty gives us this chance, to choose to take a sad and forgotten plot and turn it into a beautiful, peaceful place.
"... Memorial Day is about taking a moment to reflect and to remember, to reflect and to respect the special gift of those who did their duty."
And -- I'll add in 2008 -- it is a day to thank those who do their duty now.
NOTE: The entire speech may be found at the May 28, 2005, entry of austinbay.net/blog.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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