The 92nd annual Memorial Day ceremony at Monument Point in Heisler Park took place Monday, sponsored by the Laguna Beach American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The keynote speaker was 90-year-old Korean War veteran Sgt. Arnold “Arnie” Silverman of the U.S. Army, who was also chosen as the 2019 honored patriot in Laguna Beach’s Patriot’s Day Parade. The parade was cancelled this year due to rain, so Silverman will be honored at next year’s parade.
The following is an excerpt from Silverman’s speech:
“On this day, when we honor and remember those heroes, something significantly positive if not beautiful happens nationally. Most Americans deeply divided now by all kinds of issues—political, business, immigration, health, economic, Constitutional, environmental, religious, and you name it—on this day gather together to remember with gratitude those fallen heroes and in so doing, we become even for just this one day, a united, civil entity. It’s an inspiring thing to observe and be a part of. Wouldn’t it be something if we could maintain that unity and civility, whatever our differences now? Yeah, it would be, but it isn’t happening. It isn’t happening because we have become, and you’ve heard this before, we’ve become tribal.
We group now into separate segments of thought and values and seem locked in them. “Our” kind of people are under threat from “their” kind of people—whoever “they” are. The gaps between rich and poor, rural and urban, educated and less educated, black and white, right and left are widening. A question I keep asking is, when did bipartisan, compromise, collaboration, and negotiation become dirty words? (applause) We seem to see our adversaries as foes to be crushed. We seem to have no interest in alternate concepts. In support of our current views, many of us are subject to spreading outrageous charges against those with whom we disagree. And it seems too many of us have abandoned critical thinking and accept the credibility of those charges without thought.
You know, we’ve always been a contentious people, from Jamestown to the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock, to now. Disputation is in the national genome. Over the two centuries of the nation’s existence, with issues like a deadly civil war, union worker strikes, anti-war marches, women’s suffrage, prohibition, abortion, income distribution, even a farmers’ rebellion over a whiskey tax, we have as a people been in contention, but we’ve always found a way to resolve our issues and move forward as a nation.
When you read the writings of the Founders, I mean the great founders – Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Marshall, Adams and the rest – you learn that while all had their own preferences and prejudices, they joined together with compromises and “give and take” to create one of the greatest documents ever written, the Constitution. Jefferson intensely distrusted if not disliked Washington and Hamilton but worked with them and John Adams in creating the systems and institutions of government we have today. You can see the results of negotiation in the accomplishments of Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and even Lyndon Johnson who somehow persuaded a hostile, seemingly intractable segregationist block in both houses to approve the voting rights bill.
Have we strayed too far from the aspirations and principles of the founders and our great leaders? When I read polls that state that three-quarters of Americans believe we’re heading into a civil war or see the hate-filled attacks on religious minorities, or the hateful diatribes in the various hate-filled online forums, I wonder. But, on reflection with all of that, though we may disagree with all kinds of issues, when it comes to our belief in the basic, enriching principles, the sinews upon which this great nation was founded – I’m talking about our cherished freedoms, our economic opportunities, the equal protection under our laws, the free franchise to choose our leaders, and all of the traditions and heritage passed on to us by the Founding Fathers, I believe as a nation we remain united. But we must be vigilant. With political polarization accelerating here and worldwide, many democracies including this one, ours, are under contention and unless we work to defend and preserve it, our democracy will not last as we know it.
Ronald Reagan said, “Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength, and let us renew our faith and our hope, and our willingness to believe in ourselves, and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems that confront us.”
And we need more civility in our daily lives. We recently lost one of the great leaders of Laguna, a true patriot, Dave Connell. Dave was politically one of the most conservative people I ever met, and I guess you could call me a New York progressive. Almost every day, we would argue over the internet about some political issue, but always with mutual respect and appreciation. Sometimes in humor, we would question each other’s sanity. But when we met, when we got together, we hugged and confirmed our friendship for each other. In short, while we had different values and beliefs and came from essentially different worlds, we remained the best of friends. And how about Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Scalia. Talk about being at opposite poles, they argued against each other on so many cases before the Court but stayed the best of friends until his death. And you know what? That is how it should be. That is the America the Founders had in mind, and in my view, and that is the America our fallen heroes fought and died for.
Finally, I ask everyone to continue to support our veterans. We must never stop fighting for them. They never stopped fighting and sacrificing for us.”