Several weeks prior to the 2020 observance of Memorial Day, it occurred to me that this year’s commemoration deserved special consideration.
Now more than ever we need to understand what real bravery, courage and perseverance look like.
I started thinking about how to deliver that message. As I considered how to approach the subject, a post from the wonderful actor Barry Corbin popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. I’ve known Barry for several years, most especially from the story of his wonderful reunion with his daughter, Shannon. It’s a true love story.
I immediately approached Barry about being a part of this tribute, and he said yes. We started thinking about what he would read, and discussed using the inspirational words of several different American figures – from Abraham Lincoln to Will Rogers. Ultimately, we settled on native-Texan Audie Murphy – one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Below you will find the citation which describes the valorous actions that earned Murphy our nation’s highest award.
Shortly thereafter, I contacted pianist Danny Wright about doing the background music. Danny had the brilliant idea of using the great folk song Oh, Shenandoah! It was the perfect choice. Upon searching for the right images for the montage, the only choice was the work of award-winning photographer and combat photojournalist Jeremy Lock – who graciously shared more than 300 images from his personal files from which to choose.
From the beginning of the Great Depression through the end of World War II, Americans were asked to endure many things – from privations and want to food rationing and blackouts. More than 400,000 Americans gave their lives during the Second World War, the most lives lost since the Civil War nearly 100 years earlier. Through dedication, determination and patience, the men and women of 1929 through 1945 came to be known as “The Greatest Generation”.
Though the images chosen for the montage are all from more recent conflicts, I feel they are entirely appropriate to the occasion. Americans have always made great sacrifices in order to defeat a common enemy, often over a period of many difficult years. They have foresworn their own self-interests out of concern for their neighbors and countrymen, and unhesitatingly given up comfort, privilege and prosperity on the altar of life and liberty. As you will clearly see in the eyes of every service member included in this tribute, each is aware of the potential price of their devotion – and in the end, understands that this nation of the people, by the people, and for the people was and is worth the price of their lives. The final image drives that home more perfectly than any words I can muster.
It is this, then, that we remember each Memorial Day. It is my hope that this tribute will bring new reflections upon these sacrifices – and that we will come to see this present age as our chance to rise to greatness.
Thank you for watching.
Memorial Day, 2020
Medal of Honor Citation
AUDIE LEON MURPHY
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty on 26 January 1945, while serving with Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, in action at Holtzwihr, France. Second Lieutenant Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Second Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. Second Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Second Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machinegun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Second Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as ten yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. Second Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.