By Gabe Haugland
Good morning. Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you on such an important day, as we remember all who have fallen in the service of their great country.
Last year I spoke here in this same cemetery as I was still mourning the loss of SGT Brent Maher of Honey Creek, Iowa who I served with in Afghanistan. He lost his life in an IED attack on April 11, 2011. I wear a black band on my wrist with his name on it every day so as to be constantly reminded of his sacrifice. We are now one year removed from his passing, but I still miss him just as much today as I did one year ago, and I can hardly imagine the pain his wife and children are experiencing today as they remember him too.
We also remember the sacrifice of a local hero, Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson, of Rockford, Iowa who was one of 22 special operators who died when a Taliban RPG hit their Chinook helicopter on August 6 of last year.
Unfortunately, these two weren’t our only losses last year. In total, there have been 110 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq since the first of this year alone.
So today, I thought it would be appropriate for us to recall exactly what it is that they have sacrificed their lives for.
Our Founders believed that our Creator had endowed us with certain inalienable rights –rights that could not be surrendered to the state because they created by God- the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Our fallen have died to secure those rights.
Our Founders also recognized a few other rights they determined indispensable to our Republic:
- Freedom of speech, press, religion and petition
- The right to keep and bear arms
- Conditions for quarters of soldiers
- The right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure
- The right to due process and the prevention of unjust government takings
- The right to a speedy trial
- The right to a trial by jury
- Freedom from excessive bail and cruel punishment
- The protection of other rights not listed in the Constitution
- States rights, or the principle of federalism
We know these rights collectively as the “Bill of Rights.”
But what is a Soldier’s role in defending, protecting and preserving these rights?
Perhaps a Union Soldier during the Civil War would’ve told you he was defending the right of the slave to be free – the right to liberty.
Perhaps an American Soldier during WW2 would’ve told you he was fighting to defend our very homeland after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Had the Germans or the Japanese succeeded, all of the rights we just mentioned under the Bill of Rights would’ve ceased to exist.
Perhaps an American Soldier during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts would’ve told you he was defending our way of life against the spread of Communism, a system that killed between 85-100 million people during the 20th century alone. Perhaps he would’ve told you he was fighting to prevent mass killings that were commonplace under Communist regimes, or terror campaigns, or the brutal treatment of political prisoners in Communist “re-education camps.”
Perhaps an American Soldier during Desert Storm would’ve told you he was fighting to prevent further use of chemical weapons and poison gas, which Saddam employed against the Kurdish people in the Halabja prison massacre on March 16, 1988.
Perhaps an American Soldier during the Global War on Terror would tell you he was fighting to prevent the spread of radical Islam, a system which strips women of their rights and treats them as property; where the terrible ideology of Sharia law allows for honor killings and public stonings for women who have dishonored their families.
I know from my own experience in Afghanistan that we were fighting not only to exact revenge against the Taliban and al-Qaeda for 9/11 and prevent an attack like the from ever happening again, but for the little girls in the villages who were being poisoned by the Taliban for trying to go to school and get an education.
And of course, as every Soldier will tell you, he was fighting to protect his buddies to his left and his right.
But can you imagine the global spread of these ideologies if it weren’t for the American Soldier? Can you imagine our way of life today if the Germans had succeeded? The Rebel South? The Imperial Japanese? Communist Russia? Fascist Italy? The North Koreans? The Vietcong? Saddam Hussein? Al-Qaeda?
I can. I can imagine it because history is littered with examples of what happens to a society that refuses to honor and protect these rights that we so often take for granted.
You see, all of these countries and their actors adhered to different principles – dark principles. And as they threatened our own, the American Soldier was called upon to secure them by force.
So if you like to read the newspaper on Saturday morning without fear of being put in a re-education camp for being on the wrong side of a political issue, thank a fallen American Soldier. If you like the fact that we have newspapers at all, thank a fallen American Soldier.
If you like to worship in peace on Sunday, free from the terror of Sharia law, or suicide bombings, or state control of the Church, as was the case in pre-war Germany, thank a fallen American Soldier.
If you like knowing that the government can’t just enter your house and take your things without due process, or that you’ll have a fair trial if accused of a crime you didn’t commit, thank a fallen American Soldier.
If you like to travel to Europe, visit France and Germany, experience foreign cuisine and practice those language skills you learned in high school, thank an American Soldier. After all, not only did he liberate these countries, he then proceeded to rebuild them.
If you like going to the mall, or to dinner, free of the thought of rocket attacks from a hostile neighboring country, as is the case in Israel, thank a fallen American Soldier.
If you like going to school, or sending your kids to school, especially your daughters, with the ability to study as they please and get an education without fear of being poisoned by acid attacks, as is the case in Afghanistan, thank a fallen American Soldier.
Or maybe you’re a protester and you feel the urge to burn an American flag, secure under the First Amendment right of free speech to do so; you too should thank a fallen American Soldier.
And if you simply like to sit on your porch in the evening, look out across the amber waves of grain, or corn, or soybeans and watch your kids play, in peace, thank a fallen American Soldier.
I would like to share a poem that has stuck with me for many years. The author is Charles M. Province, a veteran of the U.S. Army and is entitled: “It is the Soldier”
It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press
It is the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us the freedom to protest
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial
It is the Soldier, who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.
The only issue I take with Mr. Province is the idea that the Soldier has given us these rights. In truth, the Soldier hasn’t. And it wasn’t our Government either. No, God gave us these rights; soldiers simply stake their lives to defending them against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Today we are grateful for each and every American Soldier who has given their life in defense of their country and these grand ideals, which have secured our place in the world as the longest standing form of government in recorded human history.
Today we are grateful for their families, who have born the sacrifice of war and loss.
But today we are also hopeful for a new generation of warrior-statesmen, who will again rise up to meet the challenges of the 21st century and the bad actors sure to challenge these ideals again soon, just as their fore-fathers have done since 1775.
Please join me in a moment of silence, as we honor all those men and women have given “the last full measure of devotion.”
Thank you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
About the Author: Gabe Haugland served in Afghanistan as an Infantry officer in 2011. He now serves in the Iowa National Guard as a reserve JAG officer. These remarks were given at the 2012 Memorial Day service in Clear Lake, Iowa, where he resides with his wife Carolyn and their two children. These opinions are his alone and do not represent those of the DoD, U.S. Army, or the Iowa National Guard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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