June 3, 2022

Veteran, Catholic school grad shares sacrifice, promise of America

By John Shaughnessy

On a day mostly marked by rain, somber skies and the sobering divisions that continue to separate the people of the United States, retired Lieutenant General John Jansen delivered a reminder of the great sacrifices that individuals and their families have made for this country—and the need for all Americans to embrace this nation’s continuing promise.

An Indianapolis native who graduated from St. Lawrence School and Bishop Chatard High School, the retired Marine Corps officer shared that theme as he gave the keynote speech at the 2022 American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service on May 26 at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis.

Memorial Day “comes from our deepest recognitions of life and death, love and loss, all tied to the struggles of freely serving, young Americans who have engaged in the mortal combats that made this country the first democratic republic on the face of the Earth,” said Jansen, who served his country for more than 30 years, involving nine deployments that included leading high-risk security operations across the world.

“This is a country that ended the blight of slavery, that contained the spread of communism, and that strives today to protect our way of life in a precarious global environment, day in and day out. Memorial Day is the day where we remember and give thanks to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in these vital and noble pursuits.”

While he saluted the many men and women who have died in defending the United States, Jansen also noted that their sacrifice extends to the families they came from and left behind—families that are referred to as “Gold Star” families.

“It is these families who must suffer their grief in the presentation of a folded flag, the somber notes of ‘Taps,’ and the startling crack of rifles in the 21-gun salute,” he said. “And then these families must face the ever-present ache of loss even as the drama fades, and others go about their daily lives.

“As much as we recognize those who gave their lives in service to this great nation, we should remember too, on this day, the family members of the fallen.”

Jansen touched upon the origins of Memorial Day, dating back to 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War when “a retired Union General, John A. Logan, recommended that a nationwide day of remembrance be observed for those who had died in that war.”

At the same time, Jansen noted that the springtime ritual was actually started by the mothers from the Union and the Confederacy who had lost sons in that war.

“In communities both small and large, in both the North and the South, mothers were turning out to the graves of their fallen sons to decorate those resting places with the flowers of spring,” he noted. “They did so as an expression of their deep grief and eternal loss. They did so, so that all would remember their sons—and the hopeless loss of young lives cut short.”

While Memorial Day is a time to reflect on that sacrifice, the Memorial Day weekend is also a time to celebrate, Jansen said.

“It is not only OK to celebrate, our young men and women would want us to celebrate. They would want us to celebrate the beauty of spring in its final days and the excitement of the coming of yet another summer filled with adventure, family and friends. They would want us to celebrate the joy of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, with all of its tradition, competition, and high-octane excitement.

“And they would also ask that you remember why they served. They would remind you that their service to this great nation was service freely chosen, to provide for our security and ensure our way of life; and to remember that our way of life is simply about us as a people governing ourselves—given the self-evident truth that all are created equal, ‘endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ ”

Near the end of his speech, Jansen shared this thought from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

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.

Closing his talk, Jansen returned his thoughts to all the women and men who have died serving the United States.

“In their service and in their sacrifice for our way of life, there is indeed much to remember and much to celebrate,” he said. “May God bless our fallen service men and women, their families and the good people of Indiana.” †

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