Memorial Service

Conducted April 19, 1971
Outside the locked gates of Arlington Cemetery as part of Dewey Canyon III, the week of protests by Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Jackson H. Day, Chaplain, 4th Infantry Division
Dak To, Pleiku, An Khe: 1968 - 1969


Father of all life, we gather this morning hoping that our thoughts and actions will promote both truth and hope. We pray that the dead may be honored as we make commitments to life. We ask strength to be bringers of peace even as we lift up to view the tragedy of war. Amen.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 94:3a, 5-7

0 Lord, how long...
They crush thy people, 0 Lord, and afflict thy heritage
They slay the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless,
and they say, "The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive."

READING: Walt Whitman, "I saw the vision of armies."

I saw the vision of armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundred of battle-flags;
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc'd with missiles, I saw them.
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds of the flags left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter'd and broken.

I saw the battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men--I saw them;
I saw the debris, and debris of all dead soldiers;
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest--they suffer'd not;
The living remain'd and suffer'd--the mother suffer'd
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer'd
And the armies that remained suffer'd.

SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 6:14

They have healed the wound of my people lightly
Saying "Peace, Peace,"
When there is no peace.

READING: Wilfred Owen (Killed in Action, 1918)
"Anthem for Doomed Youth."

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers or bells
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,--
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
and each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


Maybe there are some others here like me--who wanted desperately to believe that what we were doing was acceptable, who hung on the words of "revolutionary development" and "winning the hearts and minds of the people." We had been told that on the balance the war was a good thing and we tried to make it a good thing; all of us can tell of somebody who helped out an orphanage, or of men like one sergeant who adopted a crippled Vietnamese child; and even at Mylai the grief of one of the survivors was mixed with bewilderment as he told a reporter, "I just don't understand it .... always before, the Americans brought medicine and candy."

I believe there is something in all of us that would wave a flag for the dream of an America that brings medicine and candy, but we are gathered here today, waving no flags, in the ruins of that dream. Some of you saw right away the evil of what was going on; others of us one by one, adding and re-adding the balance sheet of what was happening and what could possibly be accomplished finally saw that no goal could be so laudable, or defense so necessary, as to justify what we have visited upon the people of Indochina.

Several of us sat around talking about this service. "Try not to make it too heavy," someone said. That's a tough thing to ask. War is a heavy thing to think about. Perhaps that is why we so quickly forget them, leaving each new generation to discover the horror on their own. It was a poet and a decorated veteran of another war a half century ago, whose words return to haunt us today:

READING: Siegfried Sassoon (Captain, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 1918) "Aftermath"

Have you forgotten yet?
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life: and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same, and War's a bloody game ...
Have you forgotten yet?
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sand-bags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, "Is it all going to happen again?"
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With the dying eyes and lolling heads, those ashen-gray
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget!


Father, war lays heavy on us. It's very heavy to remember those we knew, who are dead now. And the agony of thinking of the hundreds of thousands of Indochinese, each of whom was a man or a woman or a child that somebody knew and loved, is unbearable. The frustration of this war going on and on, and every day more people getting killed, our people, their people, and all the people in between. The senselessness of it all--how do you figure it, Lord?

It's so heavy we want to forget about it. We'd like to lay the burden on someone else. We'd like to lay it on You, Lord, and say, "God, why don't you do something about it?" We'd like to find some Leader and lay it on him. We'd like to find the imaginary people with power and lay it on them. It would be so great, Lord, to be able to cop out and lay the whole war on someone else and not have to think about it any more. But it is the people who have power, we and all the other people, and the burden is laid on us.

Give us the strength to carry it, we ask. Give us the strength which comes from hope, for only hope isn't heavy. Help us draw strength from each other and all that is most genuine in the world. Help us to see our very being gathered here as a sign of Your presence and of hope.

Help us put an end to burials of the victims of war, for we ask to participate in the burial of war itself, and the causes of war.

SCRIPTURE: Micah 4:1-4

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it
and many nations shall come, and say:
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in his paths."
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations afar off;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree
and none shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

SCRIPTURE: Revelation 21:1-4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."


All Scripture readings from The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1952
All other readings from Modern American Poetry * Modern British Poetry, Louis Untermeyer, ed., Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962

©1997 Jackson H. Day. All Rights Reserved. back Return to Sermons and Services

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