A Wounded Warrior’s Speech: The Dedication of the U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Ralph Wallace Burns Memorial Bridge

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October 8, 2016 was a day that was over 70 years coming. Cape Cod Fallen Hero United States Navy, Lt JG Ralph Wallace Burns, MIA/KIA WW2 1943, will forever be remembered through the unwavering determination of a small group of Patriots. We are fortunate to have a group here on the Cape called Bridges for the Fallen who work closely with Gold Star Families and local and state politicians to rename bridges throughout the country to honor fallen military members. Saturday, we saw this happen in Harwich at the Rte 124 overpass. A small ceremony with family from as far away as Denmark and veterans from all over the country paid tribute to a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice during World War II. Lt JG Ralph Wallace Burns was a young brave man who lost his life in combat without ever seeing his unborn son. There were many speeches in honor of the  Burns family, but none more poignant and powerful than the speech given by Disabled Iraq War Veteran Peter Damon.

With Peter’s permission, I was going to take excerpts from his speech to share with you, but I feel very strongly that his words, every one of them, need to be shared:

We are here today to honor Lt Ralph Wallace Burns with the dedication of a bridge in his name. We do this so that his name will live on as a permanent reminder of not only his  wartime service and sacrifice, but of the sacrifice of his family as well. In doing research for this speech, I read in a news article that Lt Burns’ son Skip had not yet been born when he was killed in action during WWII. And it made me think of the ripple-effect that such an event like the death of Lt Burns can have on the homefront and how so many other hometowns, in so many other states, had borne the brunt of similar ripples, and when taken in their totality, must have been more like the devastating wake of a mighty ocean liner thundering across the quiet waters of an idyllic,  mid-century, American psyche. But despite such tumult and heartache, it is obvious to discern the great respect and admiration our nation upholds for the Veterans of World War II – The Greatest Generation. For in that time the free world had faced  a perilous force of evil such had never been witnessed before in it’s day. And for most Americans, the cause for which we fought in that war was indisputable.

In the years following however, and in even more recent years, the cause for which our warfighters serve  becomes more complicated, becomes less clear to understand to an ever increasing segment of our population, lending to strife and division in our country, sometimes giving rise to feelings of angst and isolation and even resentment among our Vets. I understand this sentiment completely. I have had my own moments of railing at armchair generals, pundits, and politicians. And so it is important for me to articulate the concept of ‘sacrifice’ into a context that illustrates the ultimate ’cause’ for which our warfighters serve, which is freedom. A  concept that is sometimes more easily said than fully understood. It is fortunate for us that the oath of enlistment does not come with a caveat to opt out of unpopular conflicts. For if it had our freedoms might have long ago vanished and the history of our great nation been short-lived indeed. For it is not the job of the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine to question the mission. Rather, it is only their job to perform their duties with swift effectiveness and stern resolve. It is this rigorous devotion to  discipline and unwavering sense of duty which provides the backbone of their effectiveness. Without their complete and faithful submission to unyielding obedience, how else would it be possible for the servicemember to be willingly propelled into sheer terror and destruction at places like Antietam, the Argonne Forest, Normandy, and Inchon. Or to hold the line at Gettysburg, the Ardennes, and Khe Sanh.

The soldier has neither the time nor the luxury to question the nature of his circumstance. He leaves that in the hands of us, the free voting populace to sort these things out beforehand. And this is what makes the service members sacrifice so noble; the fact that they have left their fate to the democratic process which we as a free people have established as a just and right policy of a truly free society. And it is their faith in that policy- that ‘freedom’- which we celebrate. For whatever the cause for which they have borne their sacrifice it is us, the free citizens of the United States of America, who are the leading beneficiaries.

And so whenever I hear (particularly in the current climate) the concept of ‘nationalism’ being spurned as a virtue of an uneducated, unsophisticated, populace, I have to ask myself a question; ” Is there not such a thing as a ‘healthy nationalism’?” The kind of healthy, patriotic, zeal- the kind  which swept across our nation during World War II- the kind of unwavering devotion to an ideal which compels one to risk life and limb? I happen to think there is. And for this reason it is  all too fitting that we should gather here  to make this dedication; that this man was willing to sacrifice his life so that we should go on living as a free people, free to choose our own destiny in this great nation. But we should not take his sacrifice for granted.

It is great to come here to dedicate this bridge but that can’t be the end of it. We need to ensure that the service and sacrifices of our nation’s Veterans be fully appreciated by future generations and that we care for our surviving Veterans by providing them with the best treatment and care available; that goes without saying. And that we ensure our most severely wounded, along with the surviving families of our fallen, are compensated in a manner which in the very least provides for a comfortable, middle-class, existence. And if for any reason whatsoever that we start to question the cost or God forbid, the legitimacy of such compensation , then we need to take a long look in the mirror and judge ourselves as to whether or not we were ever deserving of the freedoms they sacrificed so much for in the first place.  And so I’ll finish with  words from our most esteemed founding father, Gen George Washington: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.” Thank you. 

 Massachusetts Army National Guard Sergeant Peter Damon

Massachusetts Army National Guard Sergeant Peter Damon

Massachusetts Army National Guard Sergeant Peter Damon is an Iraq War Veteran who lost parts of both arms in 2003 while serving in Iraq as a helicopter mechanic.

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.



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