WASHINGTON, D.C. As part of Memorial Day observances in the nation's capital, the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors Center presented "A Salute to the Troops" on May 30, featuring remarks by Sen. Robert F. Bennett and patriotic songs from three area singing groups.
To an audience that included soldiers from the Aberdeen Proving Ground near Baltimore, Md., the Utah Senator, who is a member of the Church, explained that the origins of Memorial Day were seeded in the aftermath of the Civil War as citizens gathered to decorate soldiers' graves. He compared the way the United States and various other countries celebrate past military events, pointing out that the songs and holidays each country uses to commemorate such events reveal the values and national character of its citizens.
Referring to the novel 1984, George Orwell's classic, Sen. Bennett recapped a fictional world where truth is subverted by trying to change the past to fit present needs and goals. Orwell said that one of the underlying messages of his book was "The past controls the future, and whoever controls the present controls the past."
Sen. Bennett said this concept is practiced in the world today and that much international as well as internal conflict stems from ancient rivalries, grievances and resentments that are kept "warm and refurbished, told over and over again."
With stories and holidays, this hurt echoes through the generations, he said, as people lament with "songs of mourning for that which was lost at the hands of their enemies." Those memories drive them to the conviction that "they must now, centuries later, avenge the wrongs that were visited upon them by people they never knew."
By way of contrast, Sen. Bennett noted the compassion and generosity of Americans, who help rebuild the land of their enemies and whose songs do not glorify hatred and mourning, but rather reflect "nostalgia, hope and optimism."
He recalled the words of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee who said, "We've had enough war," and who surrendered his Confederate Army with the hope that healing could begin. Sen. Bennett added, "We honor our dead and think back over the battles they fought. We do not do so in a manner calculated to keep grievances alive."
Instead of being taught to hate their enemies, Sen. Bennett said, American children will be taken to the World War II Memorial dedicated May 29 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to memorialize the 16.4 million soldiers who fought to be instructed, "in the heroism of grandfathers as they fought to free the world."
That war of liberation, he believes, was not merely to free America's allies, but also to free those America considered her enemies but who lived under tyranny or despotism.
For veterans and their families, as well as everyone who has benefited from their sacrifice, Sen. Bennett concluded, "Our past tells us we are a nation that believes in freedom, believes in defending freedom and believes in exporting freedom . . . to all of those who will accept it. And that is a past worth remembering and commemorating in song and holiday."
Other participants in the program were the Gaithersburg Community Chorus (of Maryland), the Choir of St. John Neumann Catholic Parish and a trio called "Mid-Life Crisis."
At the conclusion, the combined choirs sang the theme songs of each military service while audience members with ties to those services rose in support.