Bill Little commentary: Memorial Day
May 30, 2011
Editor's note: The following article is a reprint of a classic Bill Little commentary that originally appeared on May 25, 2008.
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
"In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Sitting in the back of an ambulance near a battlefield in France, a Canadian doctor, Lt. Col. John McCrae looked out on a cemetery where a gentle breeze stirred the wildflowers that provided the imagery for this classic poem of World War I. A friend lay buried in the field, one of thousands who died in what was called "The Great War -- the war to end all wars."
Sadly, that lofty goal has never been realized.
"The torch" has been passed from generation to generation. Brave men and women stand today in harm's way, fighting to preserve the life we know.
Memorial Day is, and should be, a day of honor. Since the days of the War Between the States, this has been a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. And in that space, history both mourns, and applauds, who they were, and what they did.
And as the massive remodeling of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium nears its completion during this summer, what started in 1924 as a concrete edifice dedicated to those Texans who died in World War I re-emerges as a majestic monument to them, and to all those men and women who have served our country in any foreign conflict.
Juxtaposed with the Louis Jordan Flagpole in the southeast corner of the stadium (a monument honoring the first former Longhorn killed in World War I) are a plethora of significant factors that recognize the value of leadership, as well as the importance of history. The stadium veterans committee is already working on a re-dedication of the stadium this fall, as well as a plaza outside the north end that will serve as a special place to remember the veterans and memorialize those who died.
Mack Brown's office contains a healthy supply of pictures and flags sent by Longhorns serving in the Middle East, and the stirring memory of Marine Ahmard Hall carrying the American flag onto the field started a tradition that is repeated each year.
About a month ago, Coach Brown sat in his coaches' conference room talking to more than a dozen touring cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point. The subject had to do with teamwork and leadership.
A little over ten days ago, Penn State coach Joe Paterno and Hall of Fame wide receiver and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann came to Austin to help celebrate the launching of a Distinguished Chair in Leadership in Global Affairs in Mack Brown's name.
The Chair will be connected to the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and it is not without irony that one notices that the LBJ Library and the stadium -- two of the three most recognized structures on the UT campus (the Tower being the other) -- sit across the street from each other.
The students who helped raise the money for the construction of the original Texas Memorial Stadium did not have the benefit of today's technology to understand about "global affairs." All they knew was that school mates had died in faraway fields whose names they couldn't pronounce.
It was a big, big world, then.
Today, instant communication and travel have made the world a lot smaller, and yet larger with the challenges. And as Mack accepted the honor of the Chair named for him, he acknowledged that leadership cannot come without teamwork, and teamwork is about relationships. All of which goes back to the benchmark principles of his football program -- communication, trust and respect. All applied with a common purpose.
Global affairs have to be about all of that. That is the power of education, the reason for reasoning. But as we dream of a world where we can all work together, it is important to remember that reality says there will be a time where, despite the best of efforts, men and women will have to stand and fight against the demons of greed and jealousy.
That is why, on the lake or at the barbecue or at some distant outpost where death bids hard to take the valiant, it is important to understand what Memorial Day is all about.
The men and women of the United States Armed Forces fight, not to make war, but to achieve great peace. Death is, and always will be, a part of the reality of war. That is why, on Memorial Day, America pauses to honor those who have lost their lives in battle.
Because the men and women we honor, whether it is amid the white crosses at Arlington Cemetery or a family plot in a little town in West Texas, died fighting for our freedom.
And there is no thanks great enough, or memorial big enough, to repay them and their families for that.
Or, as another poet wrote as a reprise to McCrae's poem, "We cherish too, the Poppy red that grows on fields where valor led, it seems to signal to the skies that blood of heroes never dies."