In an address to Congress on April 19, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur delivered the most rousing speech of his career, and one of the most memorable lines of all times–old soldiers never die; they just fade away–in the last paragraph of his speech:
“I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have all since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.”
When I think of that line about the old soldiers, I am reminded of the many gravestones that I have seen where the image of the soldier is showing the signs of weathering and is fading away from the soft white marble markers, like the one in the photograph from the Beech Grove Cemetery in Muncie, Indiana. The image of the 20-year old Michigan volunteer color bearer, delicately carved into the top quarter of this segmented-top tablet, who was wounded in battle at Spottsylvania, is becoming faint. The details of his face, uniform, and flag have been lost to the wind and rain.
I am also reminded that on days like Memorial Day, we are asked, and rightly so, to remember the commitment and sacrifice of the soldiers who have fought in all of our wars and have guarded our freedoms.