If you travel South of London, on highway A360, and follow it to the area where it intersects highway A303, you will be about 8 miles North of Salisbury, England, and just west of the river Avon. You will see an awesome sight. You will be at Stonehenge.
There, a horseshoe formation was built of 30 upright stones, weighing up to 50 tons each. The construction was begun about 3100 years before the common area, and ended by 1500 BC. It is an engineering feat that would challenge modern technology.
No one knows who built Stonehenge? There are as many theories as there are speculators. One of my favorite authors, Mary Stewart, with tongue in cheek, attributes it Merlin the Magician.
What do the stones mean? Was Stonehenge a temple for sky worship? Was it connected to the Druids, a caste of Celtic priests? Were early people able to use it to track the positions of the heavenly bodies in order to foretell eclipses of the sun and moon? No one knows: not who built Stonehenge nor what it meant.
The stones remain but the meaning is lost.
The Gilgal Stones
Now I want to tell you about another pile of stones.
When Joshua lead the Children of Israel across Jordan, and into the promised land, he had a man from each of the 12 tribes place a stone from the Jordan river into a monument heap at Gilgal, a tiny village by the river, near Jericho.
He explained his reason for erecting the monument And I quote now from The Hebrew Scriptures, Joshua 4:21-24: “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ Then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan (River) on dry land…as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea…that all the peoples of the earth may…fear the Lord your God forever.’ ”
The stones were a monument to the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land. If you look for the stones today you won’t find them.
They have long since been scattered by the forces of nature. Nor will you find the village of Gilgal. It no longer exists.
The stones are gone but the meaning remains. Why? Because succeeding generations taught the meaning of the stones. Jews still teach the meaning in their Synagogues and schools. You still hear the meaning of the stones in sermons and Sunday School lessons in churches all around the world.
So, what do we have so far?
There are stones that we can still see, but their meaning is lost. And there are stones that no longer exist, but we still know their meaning.
Now let’s talk about other stones. There are 2,500,000 of these stones. They are the headstones marking gravesites, at 117 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico. Thousands also more mark graves overseas, in places like: Flanders Field, The Ardennes, Florence, Corozal, Cambridge, Mexico City, Surrey, Normandy, North Africa, and other spots made sacred by the sacrifices of Americans.
There are numerous state-owned cemeteries for veterans? Keep in mind, too, that probably only 1 in 4 veterans are buried in veterans’ cemeteries. Every veteran is entitled to a headstone, regardless of where he or she is buried.
Now we get to the main question before us: What Is the Meaning of These Stones? These exclamation points, driven into the ground that mark the final resting-places, of our fallen comrades? America’s heroes! Those sacred sentinels are not silent. What do these stones say?
These stones speak of Courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather it is the acting out, in a moment of danger, what you have already become, what you already are.
On January 6, 1968, after his med-e-vac chopper was too shot up to fly anymore, Major Pat Brady commandeered a second one. Then when it also became too damaged to fly, he managed to scrounge a third. In one day he used up 3 choppers to rescue 51 seriously wounded men. That, according to his Medal of Honor citation, showed extraordinary courage. I had the privilege of serving with Patrick Henry Brady in Sixth Army in the early 90s, when he was then a major general. These stones speak of Courage.
These stones speak of Duty. Because the heroes whose remains lie under these stones knew the meaning of citizenship, that nothing comes without obligation; that the nation that gave them their freedom had a right to ask that they take their turn against tyranny. They would have nothing but scorn for the draft dodger, the professional student staying in school until the war is over, the coward.
When a pastor in Ocala, while only18 years old, volunteered (I emphasize that he volunteered) for a two year hitch in the Marines, went to Nam, experienced the hell of the Tet Offensive of 1968, and came home so shot up that it took him years to get well enough to resume his life: that was duty. We could talk all day about duty.
The stones speak of Honor, what we are, our character, our personal integrity. The patriots at rest under these stones would expect political leaders to set the example in good citizenship and personal integrity.
They would also insist that honor is a two way street. The Nation has the right to require its citizens to put their lives on the line in the noble defense of freedom. However, the citizens have a right to expect the Nation to keep its word to them.
This hasn’t always been done. I just wanted to scream when I heard a former Secretary of Defense admit that the Government knew years before the war’s end, that a victory in Vietnam was not possible. I wanted to scream, “Then why didn’t you stop it? Why did you continue to let us die in a war that you weren’t willing to win?”
When a prisoner of war, after surviving severe torture and near death, refused early release from the “Hanoi Hilton” because his Dad was an Admiral...honor! The smart voters of Arizona made him a US Senator. The stones speak of honor.
The stones speak of Loyalty! I mean by that the loyalty that one G.I. has for another.
General Chuck Honore tells this story. Two soldiers had become buddies. During a fire fight one of them was mortally wounded and in the confusion was left, dying, outside the perimeter. The company commander knew that anyone going out after the injured soldier would surely be killed in the process. But Joe, the wounded guy’s buddy insisted on going out to get his friend. And he was able to bring his friend back, but when he got back his friend was dead. And Joe himself had sustained a severe wound. The commander yelled at Joe, “It wasn’t worth it, I told you. He’s dead and now I have lost you, too.” Joe answered, “But sir, it was worth it, for when I reached him he said, ‘Joe, I knew you would come."
When a nineteen-year old machine gunner stood at the Chosin, on frozen feet, against a horde of Communist Chinese, firing his weapon until the barrel was red hot, so that his comrades could fall back and regroup; and stood there until Chinese Communists bullets cut him nearly in two...what do you call that? Loyalty? Courage? Duty? Honor? All of the above!
Soldiers (I mean by that all military, all G.I.s) die for one another, not motherhood, apple pie, or Old Glory! It’s not that they disdain those things, it’s just that their greatest loyalty is to their buddies, buddies that come in all colors, buddies that are both male and female.
The stones speak of sacrifice. When a member of the Women’s Army Corps, a nurse, was captured in the Philippines, and continued to minister medically to her fellow prisoners, until she died of starvation and disease...Sacrifice.
G.I.s and their families, know sacrifice. But sacrifice is not the end of our service. It is the beginning. It is the commitment we make when we choose to wear the uniform of our country. It is the pledge of our lives for the nation. It is the gift we give America. When a citizen puts on the uniform he commits his life, she commits her life, to country. That act, and the oath he or she swears, is the promise of the gift. And it is a gift, not a loss!
So never speak of an American service man or woman losing his or her life. There is a difference in losing something and giving it. I thank God that I was never called upon to give that gift, but I committed to it, as did every service man and woman, if it became my portion, when I chose to put on the uniform.
In his Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961, president John F. Kennedy said: Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
It is America’s military veterans who have paid the price, borne the burdens, and met the hardships to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
In conclusion, we have to teach the meaning of the stones. Our children and grandchildren are growing up in a culture of sex, violence, drugs, disrespect for the law and traditional moral standards, disdainful of the very values that we cherish.
The stones cry out that we faithfully and aggressively teach their meaning: Duty Courage Honor Loyalty Sacrifice. You can finish the list: Responsibility Honesty Work Country Faith Sobriety Citizenship Patriotism