Last, full measure of devotion

The numbers do not tell the tale.  Yes, we can and do and should count them, those men and women who died in America’s wars.  Those Americans who went forth, knowing the risk, to personally engage in the struggle against America’s foes.  These are not the people who cast a ballot, or sent a check or gave a LIKE.  They were personally engaged, there, as is said, at the tip of the spear.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

Called forth by their nation in time of shattering crisis and desperate need they stood up, girded their loins and went forth with their fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Coastguardsmen, Marines and Airmen to support and defend this great nation, this great experiment in Liberty and rule by, with and for the People.  They passed from life to death striving to create and sustain the glorious vision enshrined in the Constitution, the People who embrace it, and their comrades who in many cases were unable to bear their bodies back to us again.  They lie in the earth made sacred by their shed blood at home and abroad, under memorial markers, in cold Neptune’s eternal grasp or simply where they fell unremarked.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

Soon or late all mortal flesh passes from life to memory, from memory to oblivion.  Not these, no, for we, the living, the beneficiaries of their striving and spiritual heirs of their dedication must not forget them lest we ourselves be swept into oblivion.  For their lives ended in service to us, whom they never knew but to whom they passed the torch, that noble torch that was their glorious privilege to bear, received from their forefathers, that same torch which now is our solemn duty to carry forward.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.”

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

This, ultimately, is the meaning of their deaths: that We the People live, that the Republic lives.  Regardless of the manner of their deaths this was the great aim and purpose of their final mission, whatever it may have been.  That we stand today and burnish their memory is testament to the efficacy of their sacrifice.  That we stand here today, and that our sons stand ready to again step up to the defence America is testimony that their blood was not shed in vain.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

The forces of tyranny are forever trying to shackle men determined to be free to direct their own affairs under the guidance of the Almighty.  For as long as this glorious Republic endures she will call her sons forth to do battle on her behalf, to water the tree of Liberty with their own blood and that of their foes.  We long for peace at home and abroad, but on this terrestrial sphere we shall not have it unless we win it by our courage in defending the God given vision of liberty and justice for all.  Thus ever shall it be until the Last Trump sounds the final golden note.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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 — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

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