Lt. Gov. Phil Scott's remarks on Memorial Day
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott delivered this speech at the State Memorial Day Observance on May 30, 2013 at the Vermont Veterans Cemetery in Randolph.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. It’s an honor to be here.
It’s also humbling to be asked to offer words about the sacrifices of our veterans, when I’m very aware that the audience I’m speaking to includes so many Vermonters who have served themselves, or who have lost someone close to them to service.
Losing a loved one to war is something I can “somewhat” relate to. My father was a World War II Veteran, and although he didn’t die on the battlefield, he died when I was very young as a result of the injuries he sustained in the war.
But I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to lose a child to war – something too many Vermonters have endured in recent years. So I’d like to acknowledge all of you who have shared your children with the Vermont National Guard or other branches of the US Military … and especially those of you who have lost your children because of their service.
The loss of my father, when I was 11 years old, was a sad moment in my life – and I still regret the fact that he died far too young. But my father’s service, and the example he set, has been a lifelong inspiration for me.
Not only did my father sign up, along with so many from his generation, to serve his country …. to put his own youthful ambitions on hold temporarily, and perhaps permanently, to defend American freedoms …. but he also experienced a significant physical sacrifice. He lost both of his legs during the D-Day invasion, when the tank he was driving exploded in Normandy. He got out alive, but endured tremendous pain, both at that moment of impact and for the 2 years it took for him to recover – physically recover -- from his injuries. The emotional recovery, no doubt, took much longer.
But I have to say, the thing that stands out the most about my dad is his determination not to let his physical disability stand in the way. Though he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he still drove a truck…still dated and married my mother…still raised three rambunctious boys, played catch with us, took us on camping trips, fishing trips and vacations.
And we all pitched in with the same can-do attitude. During the late 50s and early 60s, wheelchair ramps were rare, and my brothers and I would help carry my father into restaurants and stores. To us, that was normal.
Fortunately, there are now a few more support structures in place for disabled veterans – but it’s still not easy and not perfect, and there will always be hurdles to surmount, maybe not always visible. For our part, we all need to be aware of opportunities to help carry those veterans, as my brothers and I carried our dad from time to time, by offering our support.
Of course, my dad hated to ask for help – and he taught me that independence and determination can get you through a lot of life’s challenges. That’s something that’s carried me through starting a business, raising a family, racing, and so on. It’s also something I’ve campaigned on – the importance of helping yourself and helping others – being independent both individually and as a community.
So I think this veteran’s example – my dad’s example – offers an important and valuable lesson: we all have to do our part.
Usually on Memorial Day, the message is that we should take a moment to remember the service and sacrifice of our veterans. But I think we need to do more than just remember … we need to look for our own opportunities to serve. Maybe we won’t enlist in the military. But maybe we volunteer with a charity, or help a neighbor, or send a care package to a Guard member overseas.
Thomas Paine, the revolutionary patriot, once said:
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
In other words, if we want to enjoy our freedom, we also need to participate in it, to protect it, to pull our own weight … in our own way.
My father, and all of the other veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice, would expect nothing less.
Again, thank you for inviting me to speak today.