2023 Ashland Memorial Day Ceremony Photo Gallery& Speech
Memorial Day Ceremony speech by Colonel (ret.) Christopher E. Keller
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, fellow veterans, and honored citizens,
Today we gather to commemorate Memorial Day where we remember and pay tribute to the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. I wish to thank the
City of Ashland Memorial Day Committee, the veterans’ organizations and the Ashland County Veteran’s Service Commission for asking me to speak today. I would like to add that I am also appreciative of seeing some faces in the crowd that I have had the privilege of serving with during my time assigned to the 1486th Transportation Company when it was located in Ashland. So that, with the significance of today, has an especially deep meaning for me.
Memorial Day is a solemn occasion—a day of reflection, remembrance, and gratitude. It is a day when we pause to honor those who answered the call to duty, who faced adversity with unwavering courage, and who gave their lives in defense of liberty. It is a day to remember the true cost of freedom—the sacrifices made by our fallen heroes. It is a day to recognize the depth of their commitment, the strength of their character, and the magnitude of their loss. These courageous men and women, from every generation and every corner of our land, stood tall in the face of adversity protecting the values that define us as Americans.
While Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the unofficial beginning of summer with grills and parties, I wish to ask, how did Memorial Day historically become a day of national observance?
In April 1865, following Lincoln's assassination, commemorations were widespread. The more than 600,000 soldiers of both sides who fought and died in the Civil War meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government also began creating the United States National Cemetery System for the Union war dead.
The first national observance of Memorial Day occurred on May 30, 1868. Then known as Decoration Day, the holiday was proclaimed to honor the Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War by Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of… and for… Union Civil War veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois. This national observance was preceded by many local ones between the end of the Civil War and Logan's declaration.
The name "Memorial Day", which was first attested in 1882, gradually became more common than "Decoration Day" after the subsequent World Wars turned it into a day of remembrance for all members of the U.S. military who fought and died in service. And it was not declared the official name until 1967 by federal law.
On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30th date to the last Monday in May.
So as we reflect and mourn on this day, I would submit the following:
For many who have studied and know our history, we know the names of such battles and places as Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, Antietam, Gettysburg, Château-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Meuse–Argonne, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Midway, Guadalcanal, D-Day, and Iwo Jima.
And for many living today,…names such as the Chosin Reservoir, Inchon, Heartbreak Ridge, La Drang Valley, Khe Sanh, Kuwait, Fallujah, Baghdad, Ramadi, Kandahar, and Kabul.
All these names, as well as others not mentioned, are known because of our national identity, military service of a family member, or the active duty member themselves. And on a more personal and heartfelt note, the names are known because of a loss of a loved one.
It is because of this loss that we are here today. We mourn, honor and offer our respects not only to our individual loss, but also to our national loss of over 1.3 million lives in support of our nation.
These individuals came from many walks of life at the dawn of this country such as merchants, printers, lawyers, farmers and sailors. From poor and prominent stations, as well as established families to new immigrants, all seeking liberty and to the right of self-governance. As this nation grew and moved westward, frontiersman, coal miners, loggers, civil and industrial workers joined their ranks. So too did others who were not always treated with the same fairness, equality, respect or charity…those such as our Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team or Native American Code Talkers. In summation, regardless of race, religion, color or creed, individuals came forward in defense of this nation. I think it only proper to ask a simple question…why? Why would they risk their fortunes, their families, their very own lives? Why would they give up the comfort of their homes and face austere environments coupled with other conditions such as a lack of equipment, food, and medical care.
I believe the reasons are many and varied but there are some common tenets. For sure, love of immediate families and their country. Also too a love of their extended family as well as their friends and ties to others in their communities. Some too because of their religious beliefs. Others looked at it being a means to better themselves, being part of a team or something bigger, service to others or a desire for a safer world.
Whatever the motivation, or maybe it’s just the by-product of other motivators, I think the greatest still is the belief in the promise of this nation…the promise that our nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated that all men are created equal. Furthermore, it is thru their ultimate sacrifice that this promise of liberty and equality would endure through peace and enjoin ALL its citizens. It is for each new generation and for the betterment and prosperity of ALL members of our society…our nation.
As we take this day to honor our fallen, we should also pause to remember those who died far from home and were not returned to their families. While the exact number is unknown, the American Battle Monuments Commission maintains 25 American military cemeteries located in 10 foreign countries that inters approximately 130,000 Soldiers. And from World War II to present day more than 81,500 Americans remain missing.
It is fitting then that we as a nation…due our diligence and honor the commitment to our fallen and not rest until we account and return our service members to their families such as U.S. Army Private First Class Sanford Keith Bowen, age 26 of Ashland, who was killed in France during World War II and returned 77 years later in 2022.
Memorial Day also serves as a reminder that the families of our fallen heroes have borne a heavy burden. They have endured sleepless nights, anxious days, and the pain of separation thru time, holidays, and family celebrations. They have made sacrifices of their own and supported their loved ones as they fought for our nation's security. We must never forget the families left behind—the mothers, fathers, spouses, children, and friends who grieve and carry the memories of their fallen heroes in their hearts.
As we remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we must also renew our commitment to the ideals for which they fought and died. We must strive to be worthy of their sacrifice and to live our lives in a manner that upholds the values they defended…We must cherish the freedoms they secured for us, and we must protect and preserve those freedoms for future generations.
Today, we find ourselves in a world marked by challenges and uncertainties. The global landscape is ever-changing, and new threats emerge every day. Let us draw strength and inspiration from the courage and resilience of our fallen heroes… Let their example serve as a guiding light in our efforts to overcome adversity and safeguard the freedoms they fought so valiantly to protect.
In the face of these challenges, it is incumbent upon each of us to honor the memory of our fallen heroes…not just with words but with actions. We can do this by supporting our active-duty service members, veterans, and their families…We can do this by becoming engaged and informed citizens, participating in the democratic process, and advocating for the rights and well-being of ALL Americans.
Furthermore, we can demonstrate our gratitude by reaching out to the families of our fallen and missing heroes,…by listening to their stories,…and by offering our support and compassion… We can show them that their loved ones' sacrifices were not in vain, and that their memory lives on in the hearts and minds of a grateful nation.
In closing, let us remember that Memorial Day is not a day of mourning alone. It is a day to celebrate the lives of those who fought and died for our freedom—a freedom that we hold dear and should never take for granted. Let us remember their sacrifice and be inspired to live our lives with purpose,…with gratitude,…and with a steadfast commitment to the ideals that make our nation great.
May God bless our fallen and missing heroes, may God bless our service members in harm's way, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.