I wrote this speech in honor of our Veterans for our school's annual Veterans Day Flag Ceremony held on November 12, 2018
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." This quote by President John F. Kennedy during his inauguration address is one of the most famous quotes in our nation’s history. At the time of his speech, it was a call to action. It was a challenge made to every American to contribute in some way to make our country better. Today as you know is Veterans Day. It is a day in which we recognize, celebrate and honor, the men and women who answered that call…..the call to serve…the call to be bigger than themselves and represent our country as a member of the armed forces.
The importance of service is a vital part of a person’s character. It helps to define who we are a person, a school, a community, a town, a state, and a country. The decision to serve means that you are making a choice. A choice to make a difference. To take up a cause and enrich the lives of others. The Veterans that join us today made a choice….a choice to set aside their personal ambitions and dreams to protect the lives of their fellow Americans and the freedoms that we hold dear. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Today I think of my childhood friend, United States Senior Chief Thomas Baldwin who in May retired after 20 years and 9 months serving our country. I remember when I was 18 years old and ready to head off to college and Tom pulled into the driveway of my parent’s house to say goodbye. He was heading off to basic training and did not know when we would see him again. I was so proud of him but so scared at the same time. I remember giving him a big hug and yes, even shedding a few tears because neither one of us quite knew what the future would hold. Over the next 21 years he served our country proudly. The sacrifices he made were many. He would spend months at sea far away from shore, over time he missed family holidays, birthday parties, and seeing his children grow up for periods of time. In fact, he even lived in a different state then his family toward the end of his service so his children could stay in their schools. He is a man of integrity, honor, loyalty and American pride. I’m honored and humbled to call him my friend and so proud of all he has accomplished. Thankfully he has rejoined his family and has started his life as a civilian. His service made a difference. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
In preparing my speech today I came across an interview with Jeffrey Courter from Chicago, Illinois. He had served his country as a Marine, a Navy Reservist and an Army National Guardsman. When talking about his time of service I was struck by the comments he said about his time in Afghanistan. “My deployment to Afghanistan changed me in many ways. It opened my eyes to poverty, oppression, and human need. I saw children standing barefoot in snow. I saw old villagers afraid of terror. I saw families of Americans providing toys, school supplies and clothing to poor Afghans. I saw bravery, kindness, and evil up close. I saw suffering on a scale I had never encountered before. People asked me whether I made a difference being deployed there. I would say, “A very small difference, but if everyone makes a very small difference, in time it will make a large difference. Service is the gift we give to the world. It’s what makes us human. It is also what gives our lives meaning. Serving my country is part of serving humanity.” Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Throughout the day you will have the opportunity to hear from our veterans about their service to our country. I want you to pay attention, not just to what they are saying but how they are saying it. I want you to notice the passion, honor, conviction and pride in how they speak. For some, they have recently finished their terms of service while others served proudly many years ago. The veterans that sit before you today have served in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and peace keeping missions throughout the world. They fought proudly with their brothers and sisters against some of the world’s most dangerous enemies. They all made sacrifices like my friend Tom.. They all have stories like Jeffrey Courter. They made a difference.. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
My challenge to all of us here today is “What difference are you making?” It is a very important time in our country where we are in need of leaders. We are in need of people, whether you are a student or a senior citizen, who are willing to follow their passion, that “thing” that gets that fire burning inside of you that you can wait to spread to others. There are so many ways that we can serve. For the students…get involved. Serve your community, get involved in a service project, be a student tutor, read to elementary students, design bulletin boards around the school, donate food to a local food pantry, join the boy scouts or girl scouts, be a leader on Student Council or one of our clubs, be part of a local youth group, help out at the Boys and Girls Club. For those of us in the community, be a mentor to a student, be a guest speaker in a school, donate your time at the library, if you are talented and can make a blanket for the homeless or organize a fundraiser, it helps make us stronger as a person, a school, a town, a state and a country. We need to make it a life-time commitment to help others. It can’t be a one time thing. Today we recognize those who were willing to sacrifice their lives…..and some did….so that we can be here….today….standing in the sunshine….. Through service, we participate in our shared commitment to create a "more perfect union." As Robert Kennedy said, "Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice he send forth a ripple of hope." That is the power of service…..Ask not what our country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
November 11th is certainly a special day each year. Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It was 11:00 in the morning, on the 11th day, on the 11th month……One hundred years ago yesterday……tired and weary, members of Battery E, 11th Field Artillery marched onto an empty battlefield, loaded a round into their favorite canon nicknamed “Calamity Jane” and fired a “closing” shot signifying the end of World War I. 100 years = 36,500 days, 100 years = 876,000 hours, 100 years = 52,560,000 minutes. There have been millions of men and women who have served our country since that time. Today we thank you….we honor you and celebrate you for what you did for our country.
In closing, I would like to end with a poem that I found this weekend on Instagram. It was posted and narrated by movie star, Dwayne Johnson, otherwise known by fans of the WWE as “The Rock," a strong supporter of the armed forces.
We look back at 100 years with honor in our eyes..
From the ocean to the desert and beyond the farthest skies
We thank the men and women that stand up for our rights
Walking into battle, morning, day and night.
A nation on their shoulders every single day
For your peace and safety
We will always pray
And although you may be far from home
Never feel alone
Because in our hearts
And in our minds
You will always roam
Gratitude to the hardest workers
Is What We Have to Give
To Show Respect for the Freedom
With Which We All Live
Thank you Veterans for your sacrifice, your service and your commitment in helping make our country the land of the free and the home of the brave! Pequannock Valley School salutes you!
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.