My address to The Doverwood Village Retirement Community On the Occasion of Veterans’ Day
Ladies and gentlemen — Dear Friends — Fellow Americans…
Welcome to today’s gathering and thank you — My name is Brian Griffin and I’m honored and humbled to be here today — to be a small part in this celebration — this recognition — this remembrance. This day – this date — is such an important occasion. You see, it was in the 11th hour — of the 11th day — of the 11th month in 1918 an armistice between Germany and the Allied nations came into effect. One year later — November 11, 1919, Armistice Day was commemorated for the first time and President Wilson proclaimed that this day should be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory”.
Well, we are here today — filled with that solemn pride — to honor our service members — to remember the brave men and women – sons and daughters – wives and husbands who serve and have served our great nation. The gallant few who have made such tremendous, and all too often terrible sacrifices — for their courage and for their devotion to duty, honor and county – We indeed honor you.
British Prime Minister — Winston Churchill said that “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
We’re here today to honor that quality in you, our heroes. And not some high-priced sports figures, but real — true — honest-to-God heroes. To remember their achievements — their courage — and their dedication. But mostly, to thank them for their service and their sacrifices.
Those we honor today come from all walks of life — diverse backgrounds — and a broad number of faiths. But each of them share certain fundamental qualities. They possess courage — pride — determination, — dedication to duty — and integrity. All the qualities needed to answer the call — to serve — to be part of something bigger than themselves.
When ordinary people responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times and rise to our nation’s call — That is true heroism. Simply because they wanted – even needed — to protect this extraordinary nation that has given them — and all of us so many blessings.
And as we think of those heroes who join us here today — as well as those who are here only in spirit — one cannot help but be awed by the enormity of their presence. We stand in the midst of giants — patriots — and the family and friends of those who have in steadfast, resolute and unwavering commitment, also so nobly served.
Now — I’d like to ask the service members and veterans who are here today to please stand.
[Wait for them to Stand]
Thank you for answering the call — for bearing the burden of our Freedom. Thank you for your dedication to duty. You have made our nation the most respected in the world — and our armed forces the finest force for strength and peace in all of history.
Please be seated.
Now I’d also like to ask the family members of any service members to stand. We know you have lived through difficult times — and often taken a heavy load upon yourselves — to keep the home fires burning. Please stand…
[Wait for them to Stand]
For all the times you have had to say goodbye not knowing if it would be the last. It is said that yours is the second greatest burden of war. Thank you for bearing that burden with dignity and grace.
Please be seated.
You see, I know a thing or two about what I referred to earlier as “real — true — honest-to-God heroes.” I am the twelfth child — the eleventh son — of a father and a mother from what Tom Brokaw named “The Greatest Generation.” They were among America’s citizen heroes and heroines who came of age during the Great Depression, fought and won the Second World War and went on to build modern America.
My father and my mother both served our great nation. My father was a Chief Petty Officer during WWII, Korea and was still active in the reserve during the Vietnam War. And if you listened to him, which I certainly did, he ran the Navy — and many a fine sailor I have had the honor to speak with since have assured me that as a Chief Petty Officer — he likely did. My mother was one of what was referred to as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — also known as a WAVE. It took a second World War to bring my parents together — and together they gave birth to fourteen children — seven of which also answered the call of duty and served. And you may well say to me that many have served — and they have. So, what then do I know of real heroes — and true heroism?
Well, I still recall — with brilliant clarity — as if it were yesterday — the unseasonably warm, beautiful, blue skied afternoon in January of 1970 when a black Ford Galaxy 500 — with black and white government license tags — carrying two handsome service men in full Dress uniform — turned at the corner near where we were outside playing — onto our street and slowly made its way toward our home. I still recall how the crisp, cool January air in one moment was filled with the sounds of children playing and adults — outside on this unusually beautiful winter afternoon — talking and laughing with one another suddenly turned in an instant — to hushed silence and a collective held breath by all.
As that black Ford Galaxy 500 — with the white and black government license tags — and the two handsome officers in full dress uniform slowly passed home after home on their way down my street — yard after yard became empty as families sent young ones inside — and then adults followed — Until finally only my family remained on that now abandoned and silent street
At long last, that black Ford Galaxy 500 — with the white and black government license tags — and the two handsome officers in full dress uniform came to a full stop at the curb just in front of our home. After what seemed like an eternity, those two handsome officers in full dress uniform slowly emerged from within the black Ford Galaxy 500 — and firm but gentle voices, they asked if this was the Griffin home.
What happened next is forever etched into the very DNA of my memory. I cannot describe — and yet I will never forget — the sound that in that moment rose up from the deepest, most grief-stricken place inside my mother. It was the sound of total and utter grief and loss — and it was complete. There is no other sound like this — I am sure.
You see, at that time, I had a brother serving on-board a flat-top called the USS Coral Sea just off the coast of Vietnam — I had another brother who, although a sailor, was serving in county as a photo Journalist with Stars and Stripes — I had two other brothers who were on detachment from the Navy to the Marines trained and serving as corpsmen — and I had one other brother sailing the North Atlantic on-board the USS Steinaker, a Gearing-class destroyer serving as the flag-ship on a port of call tour. You see, while my mother didn’t know which of her sons wasn’t coming home, in that moment, she knew that one of her sons wasn’t coming home — and she was right.
So you see, my family has seen the hell of war from the beaches of Europe — to the coastline of North Africa. From the frigid Peninsula of frozen Korea to the dense jungles of Vietnam. From the blazing hot deserts of Iraq to the Mountains of Afghanistan — And while I did not serve, I served in a family of many who served — A family that knows loss… My father, my mother, my brothers and my brother Kevin who made the ultimate sacrifice. We were raised to be proud — taught to stand tall — to always show appreciation — but most of all, to never, never forget.
Since those first shots at Lexington and Concord, America’s sons and daughters have been answering the nation’s call to duty. Millions of Americans have fought and died on battlefields here and abroad defending our freedoms and our most precious way of life. And still — even today — our troops continue to make the ultimate sacrifice. And yet, more Americans step forward to say, I am here — ready to serve. They follow in the footsteps of generation upon generation of fine Americans and a long legacy of dedication to duty — honor — and country.
Today, people all across this great land gather as we do here — to remember — to honor — and to pay gratitude to those who have served our country. Our gathering here is but one small flickering candle compared to the raging fire of pride that burns across our great nation today and every day. Though we are but a few gathered here today, it is one small way we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice — What Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the last full measure of devotion” — so that we are able to gather — and speak freely — and pray openly — yes, so we can live in freedom.
Your presence — here today — and that of all those gathering across our great nation — is a tribute to those lost troops — to their Families — and to my brother. It is a way to say… we remember. From the Soldiers who shivered and starved through the long winter at Valley Forge — to the doughboys crouched in the muddy trenches of France — to the platoons who patrolled the hazy jungles of Vietnam — and the brave men and women currently patrolling the mountains of Afghanistan — we remember — and we honor all of them.
Thank you for attending — and thank you for asking me to join you here today. God bless you — and your families — God bless our troops — and most of all God bless America.