Several members of the Wahoo VFW Post 4502 & Legion assisted in the recent Saunders County Veterans Memorial dedication on 25 September 2016. Congressmen Fortenberry who attended and spoke at the event.
VFW 4502 VFW Commander
Saunders County Veterans Memorial
For years the community of Wahoo and the surrounding towns in Saunders County have been working steadily and sacrificially to build a new veterans memorial. The people of this area live far away from the nation’s power centers, thriving in the heart of the Great Plains. But when they are called to serve, they answer. Like so many other Nebraskans, they are willing to leave their farms, their small businesses, and their families in service to America. From World War I to the present day, 101 military service members from the community have given their lives for our country.
Wahoo is somewhat known throughout America as the onetime mythical home office of a late night comedy show. What happened last Sunday, however, was much greater than the smile generated by the town’s peculiar name. About 500 people gathered at the courthouse to dedicate the new memorial. Veterans organizations, community leadership, and citizens came together to remember those 101 persons who had given their all. Each name was read in an honor roll, many of them of Czech, German, and Swedish? origin–a connection to the countries of old which shaped the local culture.
I had the privilege of briefly addressing that extraordinary gathering. When I approached the microphone to say a few words, I recalled the classic movie To Kill a Mockingbird, based upon the famous novel by Harper Lee. In the movie, the lawyer Atticus Finch defends a man unjustly accused of a crime while his family and community are forced to sit in the upper balcony of the courtroom because of the prejudice at that time. As Atticus Finch is preparing to leave the courtroom, the minister of the community says to the lawyer’s young child: “Stand up, your father’s passing.”
At that beautiful event in Wahoo, the ceremony began with the public high school and Catholic high school choirs together singing our national anthem. During the anthem, no one sat on a bench, no one took a knee, ?everyone stood. To stand is a sign of respect. We stand, not for us, but for them: the men and women before us, living and dead, who answered the call to service. Whether they cooked or cleaned or computed, or whether they fought in the worst conceivable firefight, they all sacrificed for our nation. Dignity demands a formality of ritual, giving meaning not only to those lives that were lost, but to the ties that bind us as community.
In a recent article in The New York Times, columnist David Brooks unpacks the idea of our nation’s civic religion and the exercise of certain rituals, such as the national anthem and holidays like Thanksgiving and July 4th. These moments call forth a certain reverence as they remind us of the sacrifices of those who came before ?and call us as a nation to what we ought to be. To participate in them is not to worship the nation, nor hide its faults, but to bring forth its ideals. He goes on: “We have a crisis of solidarity. That makes it hard to solve every other problem we have. When you stand and sing the national anthem, you are building a little more solidarity, and you’re singing a radical song about a radical place.”
The world is screaming for meaning. I think it best not to tear up our solemn moments. As we confront intensifying struggles about the direction of our country, perhaps it would be good to check in with the home town offices of a strong society, from places like Wahoo, Nebraska, where a local ceremony and our national melody reveal the answers we long for.
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