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Jim Furr (CPT RA West Point Class of '68): Rededication

By Remy Benoit

It is my privilege to share this message with you for Veterans Day from Jim Furr (CPT RA, West Point Class of '68).

NO TASK TOO GREAT FOR '68! and truly, after working with Captain Furr and his classmates for seven months to bring you Both Sides of the Wall Reflections of the West Point Class of 1968, I know that motto is well deserved.

To all of you who are serving and who have served our country, our gratitude and our prayers.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Jim Furr:

Memorial Service
40th West Point Reunion
September 5, 2008

Tom Margrave asked that I offer this morning a few thoughts on the subject of rededication, which I am happy to do because I think it is important.

It was to elicit rededication, you will recall, that President Lincoln devoted his famous Gettysburg Address. On that occasion the president noted that, bottom line, the Civil War was about whether a nation conceived on the proposition that all men are created equal could endure. Thousands of young men had died there at Gettysburg to preserve the integrity of that nation. In the wake of their sacrifice, Lincoln exhorted his listeners to rededicate themselves to the great task remaining before them of persevering through to victory in that war. He called on the nation to honor the memory of those who gave their lives so that America might live, by recommitting themselves to make their lives count, as the many had so recently and so nobly done.

Rededication was also the subject of thoughts expressed by President Ronald Reagan on 6 June 1984. On that 40th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, the president spoke at a memorial service above the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. Assembled on that windswept promontory in poignant tribute to their own fallen comrades were former Rangers whose D-Day objective was to seize the ground where they were now gathered. Mr. Reagan's comments on that solemn occasion included the following remarks:

"At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns.

“After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

"Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? We look at you and somehow we know the answer. You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it is the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.”

Concluding, Reagan urged a grateful nation, heartened by the valor of those undaunted Rangers, to "continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died." Here again, a call for the living to honor the memory of the fallen through a rededication to do the very best with our lives.

I am reminded of the opening scene from Stephen Spielberg’s magnificent film Saving Pvt Ryan where James Ryan, a WWII veteran, and his family visit the American cemetery in Normandy. You remember. Ryan, an old man now, overwhelmed by emotion, collapses to his knees in front of the cross marking the grave of Captain John Miller.

Decades earlier, in June 1944, after fighting their way across Omaha Beach on D-Day, breaking the first line of German defense, Miller and a squad of seven men were ordered to find paratrooper James Ryan and bring him home--alive. Ryan’s three brothers had recently been killed in action, and Gen George Marshall thought that three sons were enough for any mother to contribute to the war.

In rescuing Ryan, five of Miller’s men were killed and finally the captain himself was mortally wounded. Ryan watched as Miller struggled in his last moments, shot through one lung. The captain would not take another breath, except to grunt, “James. Earn this…earn it.”

Ryan has never forgotten Miller’s dying charge. It is this that has drawn the aged man to the gravesite of his dead commander. He has tried to live a good life, and he hopes he has. At least in the captain’s eyes he hopes he’s “earned it,” that his life has been worthy of the sacrifice so many made of giving their lives for his.

As Ryan turns these thoughts over in his mind, his wife appears at his side. Suddenly, looking at her he pleads, “Tell me I’ve led a good life, that I’m a good man.”

The request flusters her, but his earnestness makes her think better of putting it off. With great dignity, she says, “You are.”

She turns back to the other family members who have been waiting some distance away. Their stirring says they are ready to leave.

Before James Ryan joins them, he comes to attention and salutes his fallen comrade.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Reagan’s remarks at Pointe du Hoc, and Saving Pvt Ryan share a common theme. They entreat us to rededicate ourselves to making our lives count, to doing good, drawing on the example of those who have lived and died with honor.

I find it noteworthy that Israel’s King Solomon added another dimension to this concept of rededication. Recognized by history as one of the wisest of men, Solomon writes this in the Old Testament: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”

Solomon asserts that a funeral, or in our case today a memorial service, is a better place to be than a party. Why? The awareness of the passing of others tends to rivet our attention on our own mortality and on the fact that we do not have forever to make our life count. “You should take this to heart,” Solomon implores. Later, he explains why doing well with our lives is imperative.

“There will be a day,” he writes, “when God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Solomon is anxious for us to recognize that when it comes to the choices we make in life, much hangs in the balance because God notices and assesses all, including the things we tend to disguise even from ourselves.

Earlier in this service, as we listened to the roll call of deceased classmates, if your experience tracked at all with mine, there were names read that were less familiar to you. But then there were other names that evoked fond memories of experiences you shared with those men, experiences that defined the quality of their character, the kind of person they were. And it saddened us once more to realize that they, together with these others from our band of brothers, have joined the “ghostly assemblage.”

The wisdom of Solomon points out, however, that painful reminiscences like this can actually work to our advantage. They serve to remind us that one day someone will read our name from such a roll or at our own funeral service, but more than that, they beseech us, in light of what is at stake, to ask ourselves, “When that day comes, what will others remember about me? Will they say that I led a good life, that my life counted? Most importantly, what will God say?”

We have gathered here today to pay tribute to our fallen comrades. How better to honor their memory than to use this memorial service as an occasion for recommitment, for rededication, with God’s help, to make the rest of our lives the best of our lives, to live well whatever time remains to us, as our friends did?


Life is not an isolated act. Our breathing in and out, yes, are shared by a host of others in a variety of circumstances. For us to assume that wherever our fortune or misfortune takes us is a solitary accident can't help but tangle up the truth. And so we must search vigorously for an understanding beyond any superficial moment pure or grime. Together we have built this time.

Posted by: Al Beck, at 2008-11-11 01:39:11

This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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