This month’s American Legion Magazine has a reprint of the Memorial Day speech that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. gave on May 30, 1884, at the John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic, in Keene, New Hampshire. Entitled, “Why Memorial Day,” his speech certainly explains the reasons we need to move forward to preserve our Memorial Building in Little Valley.
In his address Holmes recalls not only his own experiences of the Civil War but also exhorts his fellow citizens to see why the day has meaning to all of us in the United States, whether they fought or not.
He also said, “I believe from the bottom of my heart that our memorial halls and statutes and tablets, the tattered flags of our regiments gathered in the Statehouses, are worth more to our young men by way of chastening and inspiration than the monuments of another hundred years of peaceful life could be. But even if I am wrong, even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear, and the future is to teach and kindle its children in ways as yet unrevealed, it is enough for us that this day is dear and sacred.” That portion of his speech seems to foretell what is happening here in Cattaraugus County where monuments are not remembered and not held sacred.
Preserving history is not really for our benefit. It is for the benefit of the generations that come after us. How can we define where we are going if we don’t have the foresight to preserve where we have been? As more and more Americans figure out their connections to family and events and places, what is there to attract them to see and to feel that history if all that exists are parking lots and rundown buildings? We have a great opportunity to preserve just a little piece of that history and for a lot of us, it includes our own family history
The full text of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s historic Memorial Day speech can be read at: http://people.virginia.edu/~mmd5f/memorial.htm