Dennis Flanagan, Father

Speech given in front of The Traveling Vietnam Wall on April 7, 2007

I am that which others did not want to be
I go where others dare not go.
I fight when others turn and flee.
I stand when weak and die alone.
I've tasted the sweetness of victorys breathe.
I've felt the stinging chill of fear.
I've seen the youthful face of death.
I've heard many grown men reduced to tears.

Those words were found among my sons collection of writings. Todays speech is a collaboration of my sons writings, my wifes ideas and my words.

To those who have served in our armed forces whenever or however you came to do so _ Thank you! Two simple words that often were never said. Two simple words which if put into action on your behalf when you came home from the service might have made a difference. Two simple words which are used more often to this generation of armed service members. That is one of your legacies- be proud of that.

Since the birth of our country there have been men, women and yes even children willing to put their lives on the line for our countrys ideals and beliefs. Pursuit of Life, Liberty and happiness are guaranteed to all Americans regardless of race, creed, color and class. My son, Sgt Dennis James Flanagan, was an avid historian of our American heritage. I think when he wrote the poem- A Soldiers Prayer to His Son- he tapped into possibly a veterans prayer to the people of the country he is serving.

A Soldiers Prayer to His Son

Fate has caught me on this day

Death now comes to take me away;

Before I give the Lord my soul to take,

One last prayer to my son I make.

Listen my son, I speak the truth,

Squander not your time nor youth;

For youll never know when you day is here,

So cherish all that you hold dear.

Love your family and your friends,

For theyll stick with you to the end.

Let burn that celestial fire inside,

Or to yourself you will have lied.

And now my son I pray to thee

Never ever forget me;

That I died a soldiers death

To keep you free with last breath.

Now my son the truth is told;

Always remain strong and bold;

Always keep yourself in good standing;

For to you everything Im now handing.

The torch I now give to thee,

Hold it high for liberty.

Let the flame burn, forever unbroken.

So youll never forget the words Ive spoken.

I cannot think of what our country might be if no one ever served her in the Armed Forces. I honestly doubt we would still be called Americans or that our country would stretch from sea to shining sea. When I think of our countrys symbols, her monuments and her achievements I know none of those would have been possible without those who have served and are currently serving.

Would our flag mean as much if it had never flown into the storm of war? Would it mean as much if we had ever remained neutral when the worlds scales of good and evil were tipped? NO. If no issue was ever worth fighting for then the flag would be only a symbol and some of the shades of its meaning would never be realized.

This replica of The WALL behind me is like the flag. It is a symbol. This one remembers: it honors the dead, speaks of the missing and respects the living. Many of those who are listed on this WALL died in Service to their country; died in service to US. Those who are unaccounted are also inscribed - their voices unheard by us even as the silence about their status speak volumes. Those that served have lived lives marked by their time in country and their countrys response to their service.

They are the representatives as surely as their forefathers were, as surely as this generations troops are, of the living flag. They have sweated, shivered; walked in, helioed in; ate their mess kit rations, delighted in food and news from home; longed for the sweet days of time with family, friends and familiar things while enduring the loss of precious time with these very things; wondered if they would have the good fortune of living to see the next day even as they mourned that days losses. They lived in a time out of time.

The living flag is represented by this one today. It is a flag which first flew over the Capitol during the bicentennial celebrations of 1976. It was packed away by its owner for another time worthy of being flown. That owner gave it to us after our son died in Iraq. It flew next on our flag pole On Memorial Day. In honor of those who served who died in service to their country and those who fought beside them, regardless of when they served.

We had thought to leave it up until 4th of July. Tropical Storm Alberto came to town and changed that. Alberto ripped the flag in places to shreds. And yet I couldnt bring it to any of the numerous flag disposal drop- offs. It seemed almost like sacrilege to do so. Instead I mended it.

I sewed over the tattered areas until from a distance it looked like a flag. Only one area was beyond my needle skills. It was missing entirely leaving a few threads behind. I couldnt find the right color and fabric to match, so patching was out. After much deliberation, I decided to bind up the remaining evidence of the missing piece and leave it missing.

It was sent to Iraq with this message: Please fly this flag. A letter explained its personal history and that it could still be a symbol. It first flew before many of those now serving were even born. I realized that it should be destroyed honorably but even in its condition it remained a symbol of something than those individuals who have fought in our countrys service.

It could represent the men and women who have served their country. They have flown into the Storm and were like the flag changed by the experience. Like this flag they emerged much the worse for wear- torn asunder, shredded in places and missing pieces of themselves and their units. Yet like this flag they mended themselves as best they could and flew on. They saw all that the battle encompasses- the chaos, the minutes which seemed like hours, the days which seemed like minutes, the smell, sweat and tears of those they fought with; the surge of thanksgiving when they emerged without a scratch countered by the grief at the loss of their friends. They rose above themselves and their frailties and returned to the battle.

When we look at the flag we see the stars and stripes. LOOK DEEPER-

See the PAIN, see the LOSS and see the DEDICATION of those who DEFEND US. They own a piece of the flag we will never see. The missing piece could be mentally filled in by every member of our armed forces with the uniform of their generation- their time in service. It becomes the piece of the flag most of us are unfamiliar with. The missing piece represents the loss of their: innocence, faith, family, time, limbs and lives.

On the night of January 19, 2006, my son, Dennis wrote for the last time. He and three other men were killed the next day when an IED explosion detonated under their Humvee. It is titled -All things In Lifes Uncertainties

All things in lifes uncertainties

Things often become what we dont want them to be

The best we can hope, when all hope is lost

Our minds are at war

We sometimes wonder what its all for.

Love is forever or so they say

How then did we end up this way?

All love is gone

All hearts resigned to fate

Certain people touch our life

Bringing love that ends our strife

The time has come

My death nears

In the night, His call I hear

If he comes before I wake

I pray to God will not me forsake.
They served US. Some would argue that some of those who have died in service to us have died in VAIN. Regardless of where, when or how they served: those who have put on the uniform, those who have fought, been injured or died- They did not do so in vain. They did so in Service to us. They went or were sent by US. Once they put on the uniform of this country they had no choice about where, when or how they would serve. They only knew that they would serve US.

Can you imagine some one loving you enough to be willing to die for you? Our service members have done that for generations and continue to do so. They deserve to know that regardless of what we may think about where they served that we thank them for their service to US. They have all given up things in their service to us. Even those who never saw a battlefield. Once they wear the uniform they give up their right to say No thanks I think Ill skip that 10 mile run in the heat with full battle gear on- Im sleeping in today. They gave up the right to say, Youd like me to serve where? I have other priorities maybe later.

When they are sent in OUR name to the battlefield they deserve more that a pat on the back when they return. They deserve our willingness to help them have the American dream they fought for. They deserve to know that the politics of a war will not interfere with their right to their American Dream. Their scars, whether clearly visible or hidden deeply in their minds and souls, demand our willingness to help them. We only honor those who have died in service to our country when we respect all who have fought in our name. They earned that respect on the battlefield we sent them to. They should have earned our gratitude as well as our willingness to help them be re-integrated into our society.

We have in my possession two flags which draped my sons coffin and the flag which flew before he was born. His loss will be felt by those who knew him. Those flags which draped his coffin represent that sacrifice which he knew might be asked of him. He thought we were worth such a sacrifice. That you, our fellow Americans, and Americas ideals were worth even that sacrifice. In that he is no different that any other soldier who has fought under the flag of their generation from our countrys beginnings through the present day. The Wall represents that generations war. Each monument to the fallen whether it is a headstone in the family plot, a marker in a small towns park or even a national one like this bear the names of those who thought we were worth dying for.

If you want to thank them for that sacrifice - remember to thank those who have served. Thank those who fought with them, grieved at their loss and returned to the battle field. They are flesh and blood. They bleed, feel pain and grieve. They deserve that which we often give to the movie stars, super star athletes and even the politicians. Because in truth, this country would cease to be if it werent for men and women like them.
Let me repeat myself- to those who have ever served in our armed forces however and whenever you came to do so- THANK YOU!