Memorial Day, May 28, 2018
Evergreen Cemetery, Painesville, OH
Thank you Commander Stennis, and the American Legion Post 336, for this humbling invitation to speak to you today. I am Maureen Kelly, the Clerk of Courts in Lake County. As a first generation American, I am both a proud daughter and aunt of family members who have served or are serving their Country.
I asked Commander Stennis if he had any instructions for today’s remarks and he said two things:
Be Brief (on this first point I am paraphrasing)
Everyone has a story. Tell us what this day means to you.
Today, you will hear my story.
William J. Kelly (Dad) was drafted into the Army before he was a naturalized citizen having emigrated from Ireland. He served in the Seventh Armored Division (Mechanized Cavalry) in Patton’s Army in WWII. He spoke little of the war except that he was a radio operator and was always trying to convince us that Morse code was a worthy means of communication. He would be bursting with pride to know his grandson, Second Lieutenant, Devan William Zalla, was commissioned with his class last weekend and on is on his way to join his unit as we speak.
I attended Ursuline College in the seventies and enrolled in a class called interdisciplinary studies. The premise was to study an area, research the history, music, art and architecture, government, and summarize the findings in a research paper. My focus was the Cathedral at Chartres in France. The semester was complete and I had just returned home after pouring myself into that project of learning all I could about this Gothic Cathedral with spectacular stained glass windows.
Dad had a map with the movements of the Seventh Armored Division. While folding it to prepare the table for dinner, my eyes landed on the City of Chartres in France and the map suggested that the Seventh Armored Division marched through the town.
“Dad, this map suggests you were in Chartres. Did you see the Cathedral?” Since he was hard of hearing, I asked again. “The Cathedral at Chartres - I have been studying it for months. You must have seen it – the massive rose window overlooking the square. It is from all reports breathtaking.” He thought for a while and nodded. How could he have seen something so magnificent and not be willing to comment?
I inquired again and he said, “that window you are taking about: the enemy was in the church and firing on us from above so we kept our heads down and kept moving forward to safety.” My family was hysterical at that answer. Dad failed to see the humor.
Years later, I had the unforgettable opportunity to see the magnificent Cathedral at Chartres and marveled at its beauty and historical significance. Before I departed, I stood in front of the Cathedral in the shadow of the Rose window and recalled the conversation I just shared with you. Here, years later, everyday folks were passing by, not dodging bullets, but going about their business as individuals whose enjoy freedom because of my dad and others who knew that freedom, like the rose window of the Cathedral, is as precious as it is fragile. We do not have to travel to France to value the selfless gift of dedication; we see it here in this hallowed ground.
Let us resolve to keep the memory of these brave men and women alive. Every time we pledge our allegiance to the flag, let us remember them. Each time we exercise our right to vote, let us remember them. Each time we speak our mind without fear of persecution, let us remember them.
May I suggest that today and every Memorial Day, at some moment, we remember them and their sacrifice as we go about celebrating the freedoms they struggled to provide?
In the words of Adlai Stevenson, “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. “
Or in the words of my dad, Sgt. William J. Kelly, when faced with adversity, “Keep your head down and keep moving forward.”
THANK YOU FOR THE HONOR OF SPEAKING WITH TODAY.