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In July of 1863, General Robert E. Lee's Army Of Northern Virginia of 75,000 men and the 97,000 man Union Army Of The Potomac under General George G. Meade met, by chance, at a place called Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
There at Gettysburg on 3 days in July, 1863, more men actually fought and more men died than in any other battle before or since on North American soil.
For three days of brutal fighting, there were over 172,000 troops bombarded and shot each other with over 634 cannon, firing an estimated 569 tons of ammunition and, when the battle had ended, there were over 8,000 dead soldiers, 5,000 dead horses, 27,000 wounded and over 11,000 captured or missing.
The war was to rage for two more terrible and tormenting years but the Confederacy never recovered from the losses of Gettysburg. And through the deepening twilight of Confederate military might, all who had been to Gettysburg would remember.
Four months later, on Nov. 19, the president was there to dedicate the cemetery.
Lincoln was crushed when he saw the carnage and heard the staggering numbers of dead and injured.
In his dedication speech, which begins with those immortal words… he said much that we can learn from today.
He starts with, “Four score… met on a battlefield of that war.”
Then he gets to the part I want to focus on today…
“We have come to dedicate…”
Today we are in much the same position as Lincoln… we have come here to recognize and thank our veterans.
But I feel like Lincoln... we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow THIS DAY…
You and I cannot make this day special, we cannot make their effort, their sacrifice special.
“Those brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have dedicated it far beyond our poor power to add or detract.”
Those veterans who have served in the American Revolution… the Civil War… WWI… WWII… Korean War… Vietnam War… Desert Storm… Operation Enduring Freedom… the Iraqi War… and the continuing War on Terrorism
Whether they were behind the lines… keeping up with supplies so that our soldiers on the front lines could be the best supplied, best equipped soldiers in the world
Whether they were behind the lines maintaining and repairing our equipment or flying above the lines to see that our soldiers on the ground were as safe as they could be in the hell we call war.
We owe our veterans more than we could ever say, more than we will ever know.
They left home, left their wives, husbands, children and parents
They trained and suffered, in the mud, the sweat, the pain and the loneliness so they could be prepared to serve their country
They did not do it for the money… when you’re in the foxhole being shelled by enemy aircraft, when you are shivering in the cold eating k-rations, when you are picking up what is left of your best friend who just drove over an IED… there is no amount of money that is worth it.
They sleep in trenches half filled with water… or under a Humvee to escape the scorching heat of the desert.
They do without… not just without the creature comforts they had at home… they do without food, without sleep.
They get up and go on when their body can hardly respond.
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