Sunday, June 27, 2010

Transforming Frustration into Opportunity

So I woke up this morning feeling like the last thing that I wanted to do was get up and go to work. it was Sunday and I wanted to be able to enjoy the sabbath and go to church, but instead I had to get up and get myself to work. In an effort to motivate myself I started thinking that I only had two more days, today and tomorrow, and then it would be my weekend. But then I remembered that I am going to be working for 11 hours (7:00am-6:00pm) each of my "days off" this week, before working from 8:30am-11:00pm Friday and Saturday and 9:30am-11:00pm on Sunday. At least I got the late shift on the fourth. I could have had to report at 5:30am after getting off at 11:00 pm or later the night before. It is making me tired just thinking about it! 

It also just so happens to be the hottest June on record in Washington DC, which might be contributing to my general state of fatigue at the moment! It is hard to be motivated to do much when it is this hot out! A far cry indeed from this winter and the snowstorms! Even so, I have enjoyed my share of significant moments in this last week. Even amidst the fatigue and the heat, such moments are there if I had eyes to see them. It is all a matter of how one chooses to approach this adventure that we call life. 

Sometimes it is not the destination, but the unexpected moments on the journey that are the most significant and lasting touches of the divine upon our souls. This last week has provided a wealth of unusual opportunities in which my reaction determined the impact they would have upon me. 

On Tuesday I rode my bike down to the Navy Memorial to hear the Navy Band play. Just before arriving a sudden thunderstorm came out of nowhere, and for about five minutes the skies opened up and unleashed their fury. It was enough to cancel the concert, so the whole trip could have been seen as largely pointless, but I saw it as an unexpected gift, the touch of heaven upon my face, coming unexpectedly, and only enjoyed because I had ridden down to that area of the city. 

I stood out in the road and directed traffic for the better part of eleven hours the next day, which seemed fairly miserable, but unexpectedly, I was granted breaks, times to sit in the shade with cold water and a book while still getting paid overtime. And then I got cut at 5:30, but was paid through 6:00 all the same. Small gifts, but valuable and meaningful to me! 

My schedule was messed up and I was scheduled to do my special program at Lincoln on Friday instead of Saturday as planned, but as it turned out me giving the program on Friday allowed me to connect with people who greatly appreciated me being there, people who would not have heard anything at all if I had the program as scheduled. My first attempt did not initially draw attention, and I was about to give up when a couple and their son walked up and took a picture, and because I stayed to take that picture I entered into conversation with them, which turned into a 45 minute discussion of the Civil War and its lasting significance in world history. My audience included a nine year old boy, who was actively involved in the conversation the entire time. He reminded me very much of myself at that age, which is exactly when I first began to be interested in the Civil War. It became a transcendent moment in which I was taken back to another me, long ago. Our conversation concluded and I retreated to the back room to sit down and try and cool off, only to have another ranger call me back out a few minutes later because the family had returned to thank me for my time and attention and to ask if there was anyone they could write to to tell them how impressed and thankful they were. I could have missed the entire interaction if I had given the program as expected or not stayed to take a picture!

I drew a much larger crowd the other three times I did the program, and it got better every time, with me growing more passionate and animated as I became more comfortable with my topic. Something must have gone right if I could keep 40+ people engaged and interested on a hot summer day as I spoke on how the Civil War marked a transition from classic to modern warfare and how the trenches of Petersburg were a forerunner to WWI! Not exactly the sort of topic you would expect to draw a crowd! Of course it probably helped that I did it in uniform as Chamberlain, telling it as a story from his perspective rather than as a college lecture!

I am doing my special program on Gettysburg this Friday and Saturday, which I am more excited about than any of the others. What better time to tell the story of one of the poignant moments of the war than the day on which it happened! 

The reason I was reassigned to do the program on Friday was so that I could be sent along on a bike tour on Saturday. The tour was being led by an odd duck ranger who is incredibly spacey and not organized, who I would not choose as a partner. The situation was made worse when she told me that I couldn't talk at all on the tour and was simply to go along and bring up the rear. I did manage to convince her to let me insert any additional information that I thought would be relevant if the situation arose. So when the tour began I was not too excited, and I really had no idea where we were even going or what to expect. 

She was as spacey as I had feared and it would have been easy to grow frustrated with the situation, but the six people we had on the tour were great, and I was able to talk to them as we rode, and slowly start to insert more and more of my own comments along the way until I actually basically did the last two stops on my own because I knew more about them than she did! So it turned into a fun adventure for me as well, never knowing what would happen until we got there. It was not the way I would have run the tour, but it was an opportunity to enjoy something unique and different. 

When I returned from the tour I received my schedule for the next week and was excited to see that I was at Jefferson today. I have only worked there for a few hours one morning since I visited Monticello in May and was anticipating a fun day of enlightening people about the wonderful world of Jefferson, only to discover upon arrival this morning that the power was out. Not only did this mean we had no lights, but much more importantly no AC or fans, so it was boiling hot all day. Even more importantly than that, we were cut off from the lower level, which meant we had no handicap access or bathrooms for visitors. A recipe for a terrible day! But once again I discovered that with the right eyes, these seeming setbacks could easily turn into opportunities. 

I gave two talks today, and both times a drew in people more easily because they could not go down to the museum and read about Jefferson themselves. And despite the heat I held both groups captivated for 45-60 minutes as I pontificated about the lasting significant of Jefferson and his memorial. The second talk was one of the best I have ever given at any site, and half a dozen people stayed to hear more, asking more detailed questions, for a good fifteen minutes after I had finished. Once again, I could have missed that moment entirely had I not had the eyes to see the opportunity. 

Quite a fiasco developed trying to get the power turned back on, but rather than simply getting frustrated the other rangers and I lit our path with orange glowsticks and took advantage of the chance to see the underside of the memorial in a different light, turning it into an exploration and impromptu dance party rather than a disaster. 

If there is one thing I have learned from this week it is to never pre-judge a situation in a way that limits your ability to find joy and wonder in the moments that you face. Even when you are hot and tired, when you least expect it, a touch from above can descend upon your soul. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Time has Come, the Walrus Said, to Talk of Many Things

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—Of cabbages—and kings—And why the sea is boiling hot—And whether pigs have wings."

These words provide a rather accurate summary of the sort of thought process that seems to exist for most visitors to the National Mall. There may be sense in there somewhere, but to all appearances it is entirely free of the confines of logic.

I was at the WWII Memorial today and encountered many visitors who seemed to be thinking of shoes and ships and sealing wax, whilst they frolic and play in the water, disrespecting both the memorial and the men who fought whilst completely and entirely ignoring the signs right in front of them that clearly inform them that wading in the pool is prohibited. 

As a result of an ATV accident in another park the director of the Park Service has mandated that no NPS employee can use any ATV or golf cart without some kind of special training, which does not actually exist yet, so there is a moratorium placed on all golf cart usage throughout the NPS system. That makes life interesting in a place like this, which is very dependent upon golf carts. Take for example me going out to lead a wall washing crew on Saturday morning, and needing to transport six buckets, 25 poles and brushes, two ridiculously long hoses, and spigots from our ranger station to the Vietnam Wall. Since it is no longer safe for me to use a golf cart I had to put it all in the back of a truck and drive said truck up onto the pathways going through the park, dodging visitors, and narrowly skirting the edge of the constitution gardens pool, in order to get to the wall. Clearly much safer! Though it is kind of fun to say that I have driven a truck through the middle of constitution gardens and the memorial park! 

July 4th is around the corner and I am going to be one of several rangers performing a 30 minute dramatic "vignette" illustrating the history of the stars and stripes. I will be portraying a Civil War soldier, telling the story of the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Mass USCT on July 18, 1863 in front of >50,000 people gathered in celebration of our independence. No pressure! 

The research I have done on the history of the flag turned out to be quite useful last Monday, as it was Flag Day. I joined several other rangers in historical interpretation at the Washington Monument, illustrating a similar history of the flag. We had no direction at all so two of my compatriots and I developed a whole interpretive program on the fly which we proceeded to give to unsuspecting visitors for the remainder of the day. I knew that 34 star flag I bought at Fredericksburg would come in handy! 

In further celebration of early American history I traveled down to Jamestown this last Wednesday, the birthplace of many aspects of America including representative government, taxes, and mistreating the native people for capitol and financial gain. It turns out Pocahontas was 10 years old when the Brits first showed up in 1607, most likely did not save John Smith's life at all, and frequently entertained the British colonists by turning cartwheels around the center of James Fort with a notable lack of any clothing whatsoever. Who knew?

I also visited Yorktown, where Washington and Lafayette successfully trapped Lord Cornwallis with the aid of the French navy and captured his entire army in the greatest American victory of the revolution. There is something about such places, ground upon which such significant events occurred, where people I have read about for years actually walked, and spoke, and looked upon hundreds of years ago: something that takes hold of one's sole. I am keenly reminded of the words of Joshua Chamberlain as he describes the field of Gettysburg...

         In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass. Bodies disappear. But spirits linger, to consecrate ground as the vision place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar and generations that know us not and we know not of, heart drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and to dream. And lo, the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

Something of the vision passed into my souls on those fields. Something transcendent that rises far above the freedom from logic that sometimes surrounds me. It is good to be reminded of the value of why I am here, of why these places are so important and the meaning that lies beneath, above, and around them. That statement of Chamberlain's is one I memorized to include in my "better angels of our nature" program, and I liked it so much that it made it into my program about Petersburg that I did this last Saturday, and will likely make it into my Little Round Top program on July 2nd and 3rd. Something does indeed abide.

It is that something that I seek to bring out in such programs. It is the same something that I strive to find when leading people on bike tours of the area. I have helped to lead two such tours the last two Sundays, one about the people of DC and the second about the Union in crises and the prelude to the Civil War. It still boggles my mind sometimes that I am getting paid to ride my bike around or dress up as a Union officer and talk to people about why the Civil War is important! It looks like I am going to be helping to do another tour this coming Saturday as well.

Life is about to be insane for me once again. This is my Friday. I have tomorrow off, but then am working as a "road guard" for setup for the National Symphony Orchestra July 4th concert on Wednesday. I am doing the same thing the following Tuesday and Wednesday... and the Wednesday after that. Plus on July 2nd and 3rd, after giving my special Little Round Top program, I am going to be an "event monitor" from 5:00-11:00 pm and make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be during the dress rehearsals of said concert. All told about 45 hours of overtime. Add to that the fact that I will be working about 20 hours on the 4th of July itself and the fact that after tomorrow, my only day off before July 13th will be July 6th, and I am pretty sure I am not going to make it! So this is a good time to let myself by wrapped in the shadow of a mighty presence and let the power of the vision pass into my soul.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Supremacy of the Unexpected

After a cross country plane flight and late night exodus from Baltimore-Washington International Airport I have found myself once again surrounded by the icons of America in our nation's capitol. I have only been back at work for a few days, but they have been eventful days that have further enhanced a lesson I brought back with me from Arizona; we never truly know what to expect when we walk out our door in the morning. If we are open to whimsy and the call of adventure then even the most routine tasks can be filled with unexpected delight and wonder as we move through trials and challenges.

On Sunday last my recently graduated and adult-ed sister Callie and I embarked on an adventure. We had hoped to cross the Grand Canyon, but the popularity of the canyon kept us from that goal and despite my best efforts we were unable to acquire the appropriate permits and authorization for such a journey. We decided that the primary purpose of the trip was to go backpacking and to find an adventure, so why should we let a pesky little setback stop us? The Grand Canyon is far from the only beautiful region of Arizona, so after consulting a handy map of the Tonto National Forest we elected to venture into the Sierra Ancha wilderness, an area that neither of us had ever seen before. As we drove into the hills armed with our intuition and a map showing creeks and springs in the area, our hopes were high, though the decidedly low flow rate of Rose Creek should have been a sign that we were in for a rather different experience than we had anticipated.

We drove in on a dirt road that was something less than maintained, and successfully identified a parking area that appeared to give access to two different trailheads. We wanted the one angling to the south so we started down what appeared to be a trail, complete with a nice wooden sign seeming to confirm what the nice brown dirt path through the ferns had previously led us to believe. Only minutes into the hike we crossed a narrow creek, which we took as a good sign that we would encounter such water throughout the area and continued on with high spirits, only to discover that the trail mysteriously disappeared on the other side. Referencing the map I did my best to plot a course, identifying what could be a path and heading in that direction. But that path too soon disappeared, and the exercise was repeated... And repeated again... And again... And again.... Finally we abandoned any semblance of a path and just started heading East, knowing that was the direction we ultimately needed to travel. Once we abandoned our attempts to find our way through the wilderness and simply trusted that we would come upon something to guide us on our way if we turned in the direction of our ultimate goal, less than ten minutes later we spied a clear path cutting through the woods, and upon looking to our left could see a trailhead less than 150 yards away from where we stood. Quickly walking to this trailhead we discovered that we had, in fact, stumbled across the very trail that we had thought we had been on for the last hour, within site of the true beginning of said trail, which was nowhere near the place that we had begun. Seems like there's a sermon in there somewhere...

So we started anew, this time on the clearly designated trail, making for a spring clearly marked on the aforementioned map. But the distances indicated on the map turned out to be more like generic estimates rather than precise calculations and we soon found the sun setting around us. We kept pushing on, trying to reach water (after all, this is Arizona in the summer and though we had started with 7 liters, our supply had already dwindled significantly) believing the mythical spring would appear around the next bend, but failing to come across it. Finally Callie said we needed to stop and we did so, unknowingly landing in one of the best camping spots on the entire trail. For when we rose the next morning to once again pursue our quest for water we thought we would have but a short distance to travel before it came to an end. We could not have been more wrong. We passed through dry creekbed after dry creekbed, finally arriving at the location where said spring was marked on the map, only to find that it too was naught but dry ground. Despite 3-4 feet of snow this winter there was nary a drop to be found, and had we continued past our stopping place the night before we would have not only failed to find water, but also been without a single good camping spot for several miles. Had we started on the correct trail in the first place we would have hiked an hour further that night, only to find ourselves in precisely that same situation. Our mistake had actually led us to the best place we could have been.

Without water we could not hope to continue on our current path and we decided that our best strategy was to plot a new course that would take us back to the one creek with flowing water that we had crossed when first leaving the car (which we would not have known of had we not started in the wrong place) along the most direct path. What we did not realize was that this path took us straight up a hill in the longest mile I have ever encountered. We were exhausted indeed when we finally intersected the road about 1 mile above where the car was parked, just so happening to come to that crossing at the precise moment that "Red," the fire tower monitor was going past on his dirt bike. The only other person with ten miles of us happened to be going down the road at the exact moment that we came to it. Unexpected indeed! 

After speaking to Red we traveled back to the car and blessed water, deciding that this particular wilderness would be more appropriately visited in the spring, when the water flowed in abundance, and that we would instead travel further north to a location where we knew we would find water known as "Fossil Springs." In miles it was not too far away, but I neglected to account for the fact that the highway suddenly turned into a dirt road for miles at a time along which 25 mph seemed to be flying. Nevertheless we achieved our goal and made it, not only to the trailhead, but the four miles down to the springs, with just enough daylight left to set up camp. We had figured we would be surrounded by other visitors, but as it turned out we saw nary a soul until we headed back up the trail the next day. In sharp contrast to our desperate search for water earlier that day, here we were surrounded by gushing springs, coming out of every crack and crevice in the rock, flowing into a creek filled with beautiful travertine pools, swimming holes, and mythic beauty. It was a paradise of tranquility and we had it to ourselves. Sometimes the greatest joys of life rise out of the unexpected trials and challenges and the way in which we respond to them.

As I returned to work Thursday morning after four hours of sleep the night before, I expected to be stationed at the WWII Memorial, but when I entered the ranger station that morning I was informed that I was being sent to Lincoln instead. A delegation of Russian dignitaries was visiting and had requested that a ranger meet them and their state department escort at the Lincoln Memorial in order to interpret it for them. The supervisors decided to pull me from WWII and send me to Lincoln for the sole purpose of me being that ranger. I met the delegation as planned and did my best to paint a picture of the Lincoln Memorial for them, which was quite a challenge because I normally focus on the memorial as an icon of the unity, freedom, and equality of this nation, speaking of the way in which Lincoln redefines the founding principles of this nation and lays groundwork for a great movement of freedom and liberty. I was addressing four Russian dignitaries who had served in the Russian government for many years, long before I was alive, when the government was not that of Russia, but rather of the Soviet Union. How does one portray a memorial to the values of a nation that was the greatest enemy of the nation one's audience represents? Now that was an audience I did not expect! 

I spontaneously decided after work on Thursday to go and give blood at the Red Cross, and did exactly that. As I rode my bike home later that evening I approached an intersection near my house just as the light was turning yellow. I came to a stop at the front of my lane, as did the car in the lane next to me. The light turned red and the cars traveling perpendicular to us began to move forward as their light turned to green. At least three seconds after these events occurred a lady traveling in the final lane on the road I was on came flying down the road and entered the intersection in a collision course with the aforementioned cars. The car in the first lane hit the brakes and managed to slow down enough, but the driver of car in the second lane never saw her coming, continued accelerating directly into the path of this woman, who slammed straight into him, totaling both vehicles and sending the cars out even further into the intersection, blocking all four directions of traffic.

I jumped off my bike and entered the roadway myself, succeeding in stopping traffic traveling in the opposing direction (who still had a green light) while I and two other men ran out into the road. It turned out that both drivers were conscious, their was no significant bleeding or visible trauma, and both could move and speak, so my limited medical training was quickly proven to be irrelevant, but I did help get the man out of his car to safety on the side of the road, while the woman was so much in shock that we left her alone in her vehicle. In the end both drivers left in an ambulance, and two fire trucks and squad cars responded. I remained at the scene and when an officer questioned the driver who was hit and he was unsure what had happened I volunteered to give my account, as I had seen it happen directly in front of my eyes. So I became the primary witness, and if the woman's guilt is contested I could be called in to testify to what I saw. Pretty crazy, and definitely very much unexpected!

It is not the plans we make, but how we respond to the situations we find ourselves in that determines not only our character, but also what we take out of life. Adventure is not something we go and look for so much as something that we have an opportunity to participate in when it crosses our path. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In Memorium

Last Monday we celebrated Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice as they defended the ideals this nation is founded upon, ideals of liberty, freedom, equality, and the inherent value and dignity of man. The concept of Memorial Day was birthed in the days following the Civil War, at the time referred to as Decoration Day, a time to go out and decorate the graves of the fallen and honor them for their sacrifice. Following WWI the vision was expanded as a day set aside to honor all those who have fallen in the fires of war. It was a significant day to work on the National Mall, surrounded by memorials to WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, with thousands of veterans making the pilgrimage to pay homage to fallen comrades. But for me, the significance of remembering the past had gone beyond May 31, and has been a major theme of these last two weeks. But even in the midst of remembering and honoring the past, I am keenly reminded of the hope and promise of the future.

As I write this I am sitting in the living room where I spent countless hours as a young child, adolescent, and teenager, learning what it meant to live a life of value and significance. I am surrounded by both icons of the past as well as symbols of the future. To my left is an old fireplace, around which we have oft gathered to celebrate Christmas and enjoy the comradery and fellowship inspired by the crackling flames. To my right is what in essence amounts to a shrine to my sister Callie who just yesterday made all of us proud as she walked across the stage and received a well-earned diploma only a day after her eighteenth birthday. Over the past few days I have been keenly reminded of a week nine years ago when I received a similar diploma only two days prior to my own eighteenth birthday. So even as I remember the past I also celebrate the wonder of the future.

We don't know how much time we have on this earth, and I am once again reminded of the importance of living every day well, remembering why it is that we are here on this earth. Our lives are surrounded by opportunities, opportunities for us to allow ourselves to be shaped either by despair and hopelessness, or by the touch of the better angels of our nature, which rises above the plains and pits of hell to the highest peaks of heaven. That phrase is one that I used in the final moments of my special program that I gave at the Lincoln Memorial as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain on several occasions during the month of May. I designed this program to simply be a special presentation that I would do as first person living history at the Lincoln Memorial on two different days (May 8 and 22)t, but on Sunday night one of the supervisors asked me if I would be willing to do the program the following day in special recognition of Memorial Day. I agreed and found myself dressed in a full wool Civil War uniform out in the 90+ degrees of Washington DC heat, surrounded by the thousands flooding the National Mall in celebration of the national holiday.

But the significance of Memorial Day went far beyond the floods of tourists that filled the city that day. The importance of remembering the past so that we might be better prepared to walk into the future transcends one particular day. In the week preceding Memorial Day weekend I celebrated my 27th birthday in the city of New York. Along with another ranger who happens to have the exact same birthday as myself I boarded a bus and traveled to the big apple, finding myself amidst the life and busyness of the city that never sleeps. In the few days that we were there we nearly never stopped, going from one thing to the next as we experienced great memorials to the past in the midst of a city moving us into the future. By playing the park ranger card we acquired comped tickets out to Liberty and Ellis Islands and were bumped to the front of an extensive line waiting to go out on the ferry, where we traveled to both islands and partook of ranger guided tours, exploring this history and significance of both islands. As I stood on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty looking toward the Manhattan skyline I was keenly aware of the notable absence of the twin towers, which were still present when I stood in the same place ten years ago. I had viewed pictures since 9/11 but seeing the difference in person brought new significance to the reality of what has changed. These last 8.5 years have seen many changes in this nation that have reshaped our role and position in the world, and there is no symbol more poignant than the area surrounding ground zero, forever transformed as this nation too has been changed.

Ground zero itself has the look of a construction site, but the area around it tells a story, both of the past, and of the future. St. Paul's chapel remains as powerful testimony to light shining through the darkness of the souls of man amidst pain, sorrow, and destruction as it catalogs the stories of hope and loss in the hours and days following the collapse. A nearby building is filled with images painting a picture of what the new WTC complex as well as the 9/11 memorial are to be. Part of that memorial includes a compendium of voices from all around the world, telling the story of 9/11 through their own experiences that day. I had the opportunity to record my own story, which I did, participating in telling the larger story of that day. I had left home to go to college in San Diego only two weeks previously, out on my own, uncertain in a new world, surrounded by the unknown. On the morning of September 11 I rose early to go run, but as I passed through the lobby of the dorm I saw a small group of students surrounding the television, and paused, curious what they were watching at this hour. It looked like a disaster movie, but was one I was unfamiliar with, so I paused longer, trying to determine what it was they were watching. As I stood there I suddenly realized that this was not a movie, but rather live coverage of New York, only a few minutes after the first tower was struck. I stood immobile, unable to tear my eyes away, watching as two second plane appeared and struck the second tower and then watching as first one and then the other collapsed and plummeted to the ground. I never did go to classes that day. It was the only time in five years of college that I skipped class, choosing instead to continue to watch the news coverage, knowing the significance of what was unfolding before me. It was especially impactful for me because I was watching this story 100 yards from the fence separating Point Loma's campus from one of the largest navy bases in the country, a prime target if someone was seeking to cripple the US military.

The story continues to unfold today as the repercussions of that single day radiate out ever wider on the world stage. As I stood there in New York I was keenly reminded of both those who have been lost and the many ways our world has been forever changed as a result. It was especially poignant, having just seen Federal Hall, where Washington was inaugurated as our first president, as well as Trinity Church and St. Paul's chapel, which have stood as sentinels since before this country even existed. The stories of the past are there, before us, calling out to us, that we might learn from them and so be better prepared to move into the future.

I also walked through the entirety of Central Park, toured FAO Schwartz, walked throughout times square, and visited the American Museum of Natural History, all iconic features of one of our original cities, telling the story of a diverse people that has become the United States of America. On our birthday we went to see "South Pacific," a classic Broadway production telling the story of America through the eyes of sailors stationed out in the South Pacific, trying to find their own meaning amidst the chaos of war. At night we returned to beds at a youth hostel, surrounded by people visiting from a slew of other countries, all drawn to this city as a symbol of America. And then we left this great symbol to journey back to another, the very heart of this nation, where I arrived just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

On Sunday night I viewed the special Memorial Day concert from the steps of the United States Capitol, sharing with thousands of others in honoring the fallen. The National Symphony Orchestra joined with many other artists in weaving a tapestry telling the story of America through the conflicts that have redefined our national identity. This tapestry included the personal stories of a man who owed his life to a friend who never came home from Korea because he had died to protect his comrades, as well as a woman who lost her husband in Iraq and has found new purpose by connecting with a woman who had lost her own husband in Vietnam. The music included not only standard patriotic songs, but also music from films such as "Saving Private Ryan," "We were soldiers," and "Band of Brothers." It was a moving and powerful tribute to both sacrifice and hope.

Then, as I portrayed Chamberlain on Memorial Day in the 90+ degree heat I spoke to many of the Vietnam Veterans and took pictures with a group of Gold Star Mothers who had come down to the wall for a special ceremony. At 3:00 I stood alongside a member of the President's Own as he played taps in honor of the fallen before delivering my special program one last time, in my own attempt to tell the story of those that paid the last full measure of devotion.

It is for us, the living rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.