Dennis Maulsby

MEMORIAL DAY SPEECH, 2008

Good Morning.

My name is Dennis Maulsby. I was born in Iowa and educated here: a graduate of Marshalltown High School and Grinnell College. Currently, I am a regional Senior Loan Officer for U.S. Bank. Some of my past years were spent as a soldier: four and a half years in the US Army — started as a private and ended as a First Lieutenant. I am a Vietnam veteran, having spent a year in that country with the 25th Infantry Division and First Field Force. It was that interesting year featuring the Marines’ battle at Ke Sahn and the Tet Offensive. As a result of my service, this is a special day for me, as it is for many.

Let me share with you some background about this day — and some personal thoughts.

Memorial Day has a long history as an American Day of Remembrance. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it was started to honor those who had died during the Civil War. The scope of the Holiday expanded after World War I to include those who died in any war or military action. The use of the name Memorial Day started in 1882 but wasn’t in common use until after World War II. The name achieved official status with an act of Congress in 1967 and became one of our three-day weekend holidays in 1968. Thank God, it has remained the only one, which does not yet feature massive advertised sales and a feeding frenzy of retail shopping.

In recent years I have spent hours meditating on how to explain this day and the military experience to new generations. This is especially important now that our warriors are a much smaller percentage of the population and the draft is long defunct. Military service is not an American rite of passage any longer.

My first thought on Memorial Day always goes back to Lincoln’s wisdom about the loss of veterans and the obligation of the living from his Gettysburg Address. In part of that speech he said:

“… from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s words speak over the years to command each generation’s attention.

Another way to explain military service also comes to mind. Are there familiar civilian jobs comparable to those of military men and women? (Pause) My conclusion: there is no one civilian job that encompasses or fully defines the demands placed on military men and women. However, you can still offer insight by defining the military role as a combination of the most dangerous civilian jobs: For example,

  • Law enforcement: Their jobs may include armed violence, Post Traumatic Stress Disease, and the potential for friendly fire causalities, and collateral damage.
  • Farmers/ranchers: exposure to the extremes of weather, accidents with machinery or animals, exposure to dangerous chemicals.
  • Crop dusters: crashes, chemical exposure.
  • Commercial fisherman: machinery accidents, exposure to hostile elements, drowning.

There are probably more dangerous civilian jobs that qualify. Put them all together and you have the soldier, airman, sailor, and marine. The one thing not in common with all those civilian jobs (pause) — they all pay a lot better.

At the end of my Memorial Day I think about my place in the great mass of veterans as we progress through time. I see a vision of a long dusty road, stretching to the horizon and beyond. Down this road military men and women of every stripe and kind are marching:

  • In front, those hundreds of thousands who have died in combat.
  • Following them, an even larger group of men and women who died while on active duty from exposure to the elements, disease, and accidents.
  • Marching behind them, those active duty veterans who have passed for reasons unrelated to their military duties.
  • Then those still alive, but heavy with the burdens of war: the amputees, paraplegics, brain damaged – those with war related terminal cancers caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals and radiation.
  • Following them the ones still struggling one long day at a time with emotional trauma, and Post Traumatic Stress Disease.
  • And the last marchers — those who returned relatively unscathed from their service marching to the end of their allotted time.

At some point the last veteran of each war will pass on to reunite with his or her comrades. In my vision, I see myself resume my place at parade rest in the ranks of the millions of men and women of my period of service. We are finally — and at last — whole of body, minds cleansed, and spirits at peace. Standing in front of us drill sergeants or petty officers or gunnery sergeants taking the role, their starched and creased fatigues and spit-shined boots perfect. They do a by the manual about face, salute in unison, and report to God: “All present and accounted for, Sir!”