I confess, I'm a failure in the honeymoon destination department. My brothers-in-law took my wife's sisters to Ireland, Hawaii, and the Caribbean on their honeymoons. My wife's brother took his new bride to Jamaica. I took my wife to Minneapolis.
My spouse campaigned for a Hawaiian vacation over the years but I resisted, pointing out that there's a sandy beach just a couple miles north of our house. Finally I broke down and we went to Hawaii to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary; while there, along with lots of other things, we visited Pearl Harbor.
We saw a video outlining the attack (that generation's 9/11) and received an admonition that the site was a cemetery and upon arrival to behave accordingly. All ferried over on a launch, two elderly Japanese couples were also passengers, headed for the observation deck built over the funnel of the sunken Arizona. Sealed in the U.S.S. Arizona there are still more than 800 Navy personnel trapped in their watery tomb.
We ambled reverently along the deck while the Japanese couples took pictures, boisterously laughed and pointed. Without hyperbole, I planned to throw them in the ocean as seething vengeance for the departed spirits of our ambushed boys. A young woman beat me to the punch metaphorically, proceeding to loudly, furiously and with violent hand gestures berate the Japanese couples for gloating over the results of that dastardly sneak attack. They looked around, recipients of malevolent American stares, and shut up. I don't know who she was but that woman is a hero to me.
Citizens who heed the call of their country are heroes. Several of my relatives have served in the Armed Forces, the majority coming under fire in combat, going all the way back to World War I. One of the great regrets of my life is that my myopic eyesight didn't allow me to enlist. Over the course of time, 57 million Americans have served in the military. Approximately 2 million are serving today on active duty and in the reserves. More than 1.1 million have given their lives in the defense and service of our nation throughout our history. The height of citizen participation was in WWII, when 12 percent of the U.S. population was in uniform.
Today, 0.4 percent of our population is actively serving, with 7.3 percent of the country comprised of veterans. It is because of these people and the sacrifice of our honored dead that we continue to enjoy the freedoms and prosperity that we take for granted.
Thomas Jefferson said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
Down through the ages, history, destiny, tyrants and terrorists have required the ultimate price from our fellow Americans. On Memorial Day, we celebrate their courage, commemorate their service and comfort their families.
Over the years, it has been my honor to be the keynote speaker at Memorial Day celebrations throughout South Dakota. In preparation for the speech, I like to walk through the local cemetery and look for the tombstones of veterans. It's surprising how far back the tradition of service extends in small-town South Dakota. Many communities have a continuity of service going all the way back to the Civil War.
General George S. Patton said, "The soldier is the Army. No army's better than its soldiers. The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one's country."
On that Hawaii trip we also stopped at the National Cemetery at Punchbowl Crater, the final resting place for more than 53,000 veterans, to pay our respects and to show our gratitude. Take some time this Memorial Day to remember and be thankful to our brave dead. Be appreciative of those who continue to volunteer to serve, guarding the ramparts of liberty, keeping watch over our nation and our hallowed freedoms.