Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett joined Civil War Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Gregg Curtin and President Abraham Lincoln on the rostrum of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, on Monday, for the 146th Annual Memorial Day Observance.
Earlier, the governor was the grand marshal for the annual Gettysburg Memorial Day parade. Following tradition at Gettysburg, Lincoln impersonator, James Getty delivered the Gettysburg Address. Getty was joined by David J. Klinepeter, who portrays Gov. Curtin.
Corbett, upon his arrival at the cemetery spent time talking with members of the public who came to the event. Among them was Antonio Forte, 7, of Lancaster, who is awaiting a complete stomach and full intestine transplant at Penn State Children’s Hopsital, in Hershey.
Corbett began his speech by asking veterans and families of veterans who lost someone during times of conflict to raise their hands. He said it was important that Americans express their gratitude to those who have served and died in the name of freedom.
“Freedom is not free,” Corbett said. As to veterans, he asked the audience of more than 500 who had gathered near the spot where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, on Nov. 19, 1863, to “honor them, remember them and thank them.”
Corbett said he was honored to speak on Memorial Day. A day, he noted, that’s purpose is to pause and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“It’s time thank those who protect our freedoms today,” Corbett said. “We have in our nation a long tradition of devoted soldiers who gave their lives for their ideals and principles. Their stories inspire us.”
After relating the stories of the bravery by a soldier during World War II and from a soldier in the war in Iraq, Corbett said they were but two stories out of thousands of the kind of heroism and sacrifice that were being honored. It is for those acts that Americans should thank veterans and their families for their dedication and service to their country.
“The freedoms that each of us experience every day – to cast a ballot for whom you wish to vote for; to question our leaders; to protect against injustice,” Corbett said. “These freedoms are earned and protected by the brave men and women who are committed to the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence; that we all have certain inalienable rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Whether it be from Gettysburg to Iwo Jima to Afghanistan, American soldiers have fought and died to preserve the principles our nation was founded upon.”
Gettysburg, he said, is one of a couple of locations where “you can feel the spirit of the place.” Corbett said that about 100 miles from Gettysburg, in a rural area of Stonycreek Township, citizen soldiers of United Airlines Flight 93, gave their lives for their country on Sept. 11, 2001, when they stopped terrorists intent on crashing a plane into Washington, D.C.
Freshman U.S. Congressman, Scott Perry (R PA 4th District), and a colonel in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who served in Iraq, in a brief speech before Corbett, said the day was one for remembering those who answered a call to duty. Each member of the military, Perry said, fought to maintain the country’s freedom and principles.
“Sadly, the real reason for Memorial Day has gotten lost for too many of us in traveling, barbecues and a long weekend,” Perry said. “Today is not about celebrating the men and women who selflessly served in the military or the armed forces, we have Veteran’s Day for that. Nor is it about the origins of our country or political or patriotic observance, we have Flag Day and the Fourth of July for that. Most importantly Memorial Day is about commemoration, not celebration, commemoration of those who died in defense of our freedoms.”
Quoting President John F. Kennedy, Perry said “a nation is judged by how it honors and who it honors.” Standing on the battlefield, surrounded by the monuments and the graves of Civil War soldiers made him think about the people buried here, he said. Despite not knowing their names or their personal stories, “we known what they did,” Perry said.
“Their story is our story,” Perry said. “Back then on this battlefield, thousands of them in three days gave their last full measure; and, right now today, thousands line up on a daily basis to serve. That is the great thing about America. This is a calling each one of them answered … the call of their God and their country. They did it for the duty and responsibility to honor the past … and to secure the future.”
Quoting President Ronald Reagan, Perry said that Memorial Day was a “time to remember fallen heroes and to pray that none will ever have to die for us again…. In whatever way you do, please, remember today.”
As is tradition, children put flowers on the graves in the cemetery. Following the formal program, Corbett, Perry, Representative Daniel Moul whose district includes Gettysburg, Gold Star Mothers and members of area veteran’s associations, placed wreathes in front of the Soldier’s Monument.