Decoration Day Address
Given by
Major John D. Hartigan, A.C.
(32nd College Training Detachment (Aircrew)
Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA
Delivered on Memorial Day, 1943

We are met today, not to commune with the dead, but to Greet and rejoice with the living – those who have passed beyond the pale of mortal sight – to rejoice that that idealism and that sense of rightness, for which they fought, still exists in the beloved land of ours; and further, to rejoice that the light of liberty is burning anew, and with even greater brightness and vigor.
Today is known under two names – one, Memorial Day, the other Decoration Day.  This occasion combines both thoughts.  In retrospect we remember the deeds done and the ends accomplished, and, in decoration and appreciation, we express our gratitude for the sacrifices of the past, as well as the pioneering of that way which we, today, continue to tread.
This great country of ours is a land of protest.  It was founded as a result of the healthy protest of our forefathers.  This protest is still going on against the powers of oppression, brutality, injustice, and persecution, and is sending out its mightiest voice towards the freeing, not only of a section of the world, as in the Civil War, but for the purging of those forms of thought from human consciousness; as well as brining to a weary world that peace “which passeth all understanding.”
The history of our protest is long, and were we to place upon our coat of arms another motto, we should inscribe, “We protest”!
The first arrival of this long line of protesters took form in the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock.  There they set up, under the most vigorous climatic conditions, coupled with disease and want, the first settlement of spiritual protest on this continent.  As they celebrated their first Thanksgiving Day, for the protection and bounty of their Maker, so can we look on this day as one of Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving that the same spirit of moral protest against widespread injustice exists today – that protest taking form in the global, and, now, aggressive activity of our military forces.  This protest is becoming stronger each day, and will continue – until the right form of Victory is won – Victory with lasting peace and proper justice for all.
The arrival of the Pilgrims was followed by that of other protesting groups – Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.  They were escaping persecution and seeking a haven, where the free religious worship would be unhampered through dictatorial ukase.
It is interesting to note that the second church founded in New York City was a synagogue of Portuguese Jews.  Maryland was a Catholic settlement, and Delaware, nearby, became a center for Scandinavian Lutherans; and, so the line of protest against injustice continued and grew.  Wars succeeded these plantings of protesters.
The Revolutionary War was fought against those forces of oppression and absentee landlordship which would have kept these United States, based on such glowing documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Then, followed the War of 1812; again, a protest against the infringement of our sovereign rights, together with non recognition of our laws of naturalization and citizenship.  The world had recognized the United States, legally, but was not entirely aware that we were a going concern – independent, and able to govern as well as protect ourselves.
Both of these struggles were in defense of what we knew to be, not only our rights as men, but also out rights as Americans.
Then came the Mexican War – asserted to have been our only war of aggression and aggrandizement.  It paid most richly in – Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California – although it can be claimed with proper partisan justice that it was fought in defense of that group of sturdy Texans who wished to live according to the dictator of their own conscience.
Underneath, during these periods, the seething forces of idealism and justice were bringing to a point of decision one great issue – “shall one man's body continue to be toe property of another?”  Idealism coupled with forthright thought – the heritage bequeathed by those religious protesters who first landed in this country culminated in Civil War.
At Gettysburg the question was answered, and, in these United States, no longer could man possess his brother.
As the outcome of Civil War brought to an end and the bodily possession of slaves, so the spiritual advance, since 1863, has been tremendous, and today we see our President receiving, as house guest, the President of Liberia. It is a long road from the arrival of the first slave ship in America.
Our next armed intervention was against a moral issue – the liberation of Cuba from the yoke of Spain – the last of the Spanish possessions in the Western hemisphere to strike for their independence – and bringing to a close a great Colonial Empire in these Americas.
In World War I, our idealism, as expressed in the phrase, “To make the world free for Democracy”, caused us to send more than 2,000,000 men abroad and to expend billions of treasure.  For this adventure, our only return was the satisfaction that we had extended the right hand of fellowship and aid to countries having like ideas of democracy and meriting preservation.
Today we are in a struggle where the spiritual quality is uppermost. We are not ashamed of the fact that we have taken the Lord in with us.  In fact, we have gone into business with Him.
Religion, all over the world, had become static, and the living spiritual qualities had given place to a standardized and routine religious thought.  The decline of many countries and empires can be laid to the fact that the moral qualities had become buried beneath the cloak of materialism – with the result, that the inspirational motivation of government had lost its primary stimulus, namely, unselfish and moral service.  “For want of vision the people faileth”.  This definitely means spiritual and moral vision.
Today the whole situation is being changed.  We are bringing to surface the powers of darkness, all over the world, and with a revitalized spiritual thought are terminating, and will terminate, their activities.
It is tremendous progress in right thinking – the greatest of its kind since the Crusades.
It leads to only one thing – spiritual victory, and, in this, our country has been the Leader of the World, since the first Pilgrim placed his foot upon the Rock.
It is our duty and privilege, as citizens of these United States, to combine in continuous and humble devotion to our God, Who, in the darkest periods of our history, has always led and protected us along the road He has chosen us to go.  We are indeed the “Chosen People, and, in the history of right desire and endeavor, it has been continuously demonstrated that “one with God is a majority.”
In closing, for those of us who have loved ones in the Service – not only of our own Country but of mankind – and for those whose loved ones may have left for a farther shore – may I draw a paraphrase from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the greatest of documents defining democracy?
Instead of the phrase, “That these dead shall not have died in vain”, may I substitute, “That these – living – may not have lived in vain”?

Air Crew Symbol
Courtesy of Dickinson College Special Collections.

 *The Decoration Day Address was taken from the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  A copy of the actual address can be found within the drop file for John Hartigan.

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