February 20, 2013

Iwo Jima - "The birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere"

There have been plenty of reminders the past few days about the 68th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, but an old friend of mine passed along another reminder...one about the extraordinary eulogy given by Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, a Navy Chaplain with the 5th Marine Division, at the dedication of the Division cemetery on Iwo, March, 1945. It is often referred to as second only to the Gettysburg address in its power, poetry, timeless message of love and compassion for one's fellow man, and commemoration of both the nobility and terrible loss that accompanies battle. Here it is as it was read into the U.S. Congressional record not too long ago:

"Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends, men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us, men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may now rest a man who was destined to be a great prophet, to find the way perhaps for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate the earth in their memory.

"It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men have already done. All that we can even hope to do is to follow their example, to show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war; to swear that by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of the human will, their sons and ours will never suffer these pains again. These men have done their job well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom.

"We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in this war. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor, together. Here, no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here, there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination, no prejudices, no hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

"Any man among the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts up his hand in hate against a brother or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates an empty, hollow mockery. To this, then, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves to the rights of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have paid the price.

"When the last shot has been fired, there will be those whose eyes are turned backward, not forward, who will be satisfied with wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades, this too we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man. Its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man. We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, the right to a living that is decent and secure.

"When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit will be more important than peace. To those who sleep here silent, we give our promise: We will not listen. We will not forget that some of you paid the ultimate price for men who profit at your expense. We will remember you as you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground.

"Thus do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us again. Thus do we consecrate ourselves to the living to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear, this shall not be in vain. Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere."

Semper Fidelis

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