28 May Memorial Day Speech from Gold Star Dad

Jeff Falkel delivered this speech to over 600 people in Irvine, California on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014.  I found his message of love to be powerful and moving, and received his permission to post it here:

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.04.33 PMThank you for having me share this special day at this very special place.

For most Americans, Memorial Day is a day and weekend for picnics, BBQs, consumer sales and trips to the beach. AAA reports that over 1 million people will take to the roads to celebrate the weekend.

But for the families of the fallen – our GOLD STAR families – EVERYDAY is Memorial Day

Years ago – long before my warrior, my hero, my son SSG Chris Falkel crossed over, he asked me what Memorial Day was all about …

Without hesitation, I told Chris then what I still believe today that Memorial Day is all about …

It is about LOVE … and this is what I told him

There are many reasons why someone joins the military, but if you ask most of the 1% that do raise their hand and put their civilian life on hold – they will tell you that they do it for love

Love of family – so someone else doesn’t need to go into harm’s way

Love of country – and all that protecting our freedoms requires

Love of the brother or sister on their left and their right – the family that ONLY someone in the military can know about and that they give and receive so much love from

The men and women of our military have been at war longer than any other conflict that our great country has ever been involved in. But in every war, many of our family never make it home.

This monument is a wonderful and moving tribute to the men and women who perished over the past 13 years

For these men and women, their love has now become our love, and we owe it to them to continue and uphold their love, their dreams, and their wishes as our own.

Let me tell you about a few members of my military family and how they are carrying on the love, hopes and dreams of some of the men and women on these stones

  • Mr. Michael Reagan, who put his illustrious art career on hold to draw at no charge, over 3,800 portraits of the fallen as gifts for our Gold Star families. Mike was a Vietnam veteran that had a fellow Marine die in his arms, and Michael’s Fallen Heroes Project has helped him make the journey home, and given peace and hope to ALL of those 3800 families. My portrait of Chris is one of, if not the most prized possession I have. I love Mike Reagan.
  • Mrs. Jen Paquette, whose husband miraculously escaped death but lost both of his legs in Afghanistan. She loves our Special Forces family so much that she sacrifices everything to be there and do ALL she can for the 267 Special Forces Gold Star families and the over 800 Special Forces warriors that have been wounded in the war. She is relentless in her dedication and devotion to our Special Forces family. My life is better for having Mrs. BossLady – Jen Paquette in it!
  • Mr. Joe Baddick, who lost his son in Iraq, but has worked tirelessly to keep his son’s memory and love alive through a book about his son. He now has written a second book about the stories and journeys of some of our severely wounded soldiers so they will never be forgotten for all that they have given. Joe takes every penny from the sales of his books and donates the monies to support the needs of our wounded. He also goes to as many WWII events as he can to do whatever he can for those tremendous men.
  • Mrs. Louise Cantrell, who lost her husband and their two beautiful daughters in a house fire two years ago. Chief Cantrell had been deployed 6 times, and had been awarded 5 Purple Hearts, but tragically died with their daughters. Louise is developing scholarships for young dancers in her daughters honor, and a fishing tournament to raise money for those in need. Louise is also going out and talking to young women about her story and her family – which serves as an inspiration to countless numbers of young ladies … and to me too!!! Seeing all the good that Louise is doing and will continue to do – touches my soul and puts a smile in my heart.
  • Mr. Zeth Ronin Read. Z was only 18 months old when his warrior father got multiple myeloma. For the past 7 years, while his dad was battling cancer like the warrior he was, Zeth has grown his hair long so that it could be used to make wigs for other people who have cancer. He was and still is teased and made fun of at school and around town because of the length of his hair. But he has his mission, just as his dad did on so many occasions. Zeth’s dad, my brother, lost his battle with multiple myeloma on 12 April, but Zeth will continue to help others who have cancer, and I know he will for the rest of his life.
  • … and then there is this guy that makes bullet pens. They were my son’s idea and I KNOW that Chris is smiling down on me with every pen I make. We have turned an instrument of war and made it a tool of education – which was so important to Chris. We have made over 170,000 pens in the past 7 years. They are in countries all over the world, and have touched the lives of so many people. And we have given over $300,000 in funds and product to the foundations that support our Special Operations family … and we are JUST getting started!

These great Americans I have introduced you to just now have overcome the tragedy in their lives and are living the love of their loved ones.

Just as their fallen family member made a difference, they are NOW making a difference in the lives of so many.

Because of their love, they are living their lives of love for others.

So, I will leave you with this request – everyone here has lost a loved one, many who are truly more than a name on these walls – I ask you … out of love … to dedicate the rest of your lives for those you love and that which they were passionate about.

Live their love.

They gave their tomorrows for OUR today – do something with each new today

Memorial Day is not just a time for honor, thinking and remembrance … it is a time for action. To do with our lives what they cannot… Thank you.

4 Comments
  • Brian Wilson
    Posted at 11:25h, 29 May Reply

    I met Jeff a few years back at SOFIC in Tampa. As I learned more about Jeff and his Warrior, Chris, I now call him my frind and Brother. So moved was I by his book about Chris that I wrote him and asked to purchase three additional books. One for each of my sons signed by Jeff. I want a relationship with my boys like Jeff has with his two sons. He sent the books, each signed and accompanied with a bullet pen engraved with each of their names but he refused payment! This is Jeff Lives hi Love! Inspiring me to be a better father to my three precious boys, two of which, so far, have raised their hands to serve!

  • Jan Rutherford
    Posted at 12:58h, 29 May Reply

    Brian – thank you for your note. Yes – Jeff is an incredible person – giving and giving beyond comprehension. He’s been a mentor for my son – a First Lieutenant in the 2ID – and absolutely is part of our family.

    All the best to you and your family. ~Jan

  • Gary Dolan
    Posted at 06:29h, 30 May Reply

    I would like to again share a writing I did a few years ago about Memorial Day that I originally wrote for one of my Rangers suffering from survivor’s guilt:

    How Can We Best Honor Their Memory on Memorial Day

    I believe we veterans are a living tribute and have a solemn duty to bestow honor upon the memory of our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters who gave the full measure of devotion in defense of our country and in defense of each other.

    As I get older, the depths of my feelings and emotions mature while I seemingly become less wise. Everything, and not just physically, was somehow easier when I was younger. I no longer have all the answers I enjoyed with my youthful wisdom.

    I am not sure how best to honor those who died: for me, for my brothers-in-arms, for my family, for my future and for my freedoms.

    One of the happiest days of my life was when I married my true love at West Point on Memorial Day, May 30th, 1970. So, when someone wishes me a “Happy Memorial Day.” I can beam with the happiest thoughts and reflections of that wonderful day. However, having departed for Vietnam the day after I returned from my honeymoon, the happy thoughts are as quickly departed and replaced with the evocative memories of my fallen heroes.

    As I do every Memorial Day, I will return from marching with my local VFW in its annual Memorial Day Parade filled with high school marching bands, boys & girls scouts/soccer teams and hundreds of volunteer firemen. For all our parades, the veterans are always invited to lead the parade, even in front of the politicians. The small crowds lining the streets always clap the loudest for the veterans. I know they will soon dissipate to enjoy cook-outs with family & friends in this beautiful weather. I, myself, am looking forward to my own family being with us for a bar-b-que.

    So, to the question of how best can we honor Their Memory on Memorial Day.

    There is a phrase in the bible: “Who will honor him who does not honor himself?” As living tributes, I believe we must act honorably to honor the memories of our fallen. I believe we honor the memory when we accept honor. Allow the citizens to honor us in any way they choose, whether it be clapping when we pass in review, placing us on a dais, bestowing upon us proclamations or certificates or simply being the recipients of a “Thank You!” I think it is our solemn duty to demand honor. We are the voices of the deceased; we are the reminders of the deceased; we are the living tributes of the deceased. It is our duty to rekindle patriotic fervor in the beating hearts of our country-folk, to remind them by our honorable presence of the supreme sacrifices of our fallen heroes. I truly believe we are the living medals earned by our fallen heroes.

    I believe our country deserves to be happy and free, because that happiness and freedom was bought with the blood of our fallen heroes. I think our fallen heroes would appreciate that our country is happy and free and would gladly accept that as a wonderful tribute to their sacrifice. So, I personally am not disturbed to note that our people wish each other a Happy Memorial Day and celebrate the onset of summer.

    I am also thankful. I am thankful that I once was young and soared with eagles. In my youth I did not adequately appreciate the full measure of the men with whom I served. Never again would I be in the company of men who would routinely offer up their own lives to spare mine; never again would I share unqualified trust and know that I was equally trusted. The respect, admiration, honor and love for these men with whom I served grows with each passing Memorial Day. I am thankful and prideful for all who served.

    On this Memorial Day I also salute the Gold Star Families and promise to honor them with my own living tribute.

    God bless all veterans!

  • Jan Rutherford
    Posted at 16:18h, 30 May Reply

    Thank you, Gary, for a beautifully written tribute.

Post A Comment