John Ben Shepperd: “Why We Are Here”
On November 11, 1982, the Ector Country Independent School District held a ceremony in Odessa, Texas, honoring two district graduates—Alfred Wilson and Marvin Young—who had been posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service and sacrifice in Vietnam. Former Texas Attorney General John Ben Shepperd participated in the ceremony, reminding those in attendance of the reasons they had gathered on that day.
We are here to honor the memory of two young Odessans whose superior courage was commemorated by the highest accolade a grateful country can bestow . . .
We are here to memorialize the other 57,690 brave men who gave their lives in Vietnam for a vital step in the preservation of mankind’s freedom . . .
We are here to pay tribute to—and give our sacred assurance that we have not forgotten—the hundreds of thousands of other fine Americans who served the Colors in 10 wars . . .
These are our heroes . . .
. . . any civilization without heroes and respected leaders to look up to, will perish.
We are here to commend the school board, our dynamic superintendent and his able staff for daring to add a unit of study on the significance of the Medal of Honor and Veterans Day.
We are here to express our gratitude to these patriotic school officials—who pioneered and are leading the state in the teaching of American and Texas history . . . the cement that holds our society together. And for teaching free enterprise . . . the economic cornerstone of freedom . . . and for the teaching of responsible citizenship and patriotism . . . the greatest hope for our country is that our schools and communities will be so full of Americanism and patriotism . . . that there will be no room left for any other “’isms.”
We are here to mark this Veterans Day by a re-dedication and re-affirmation to the great and unique principles for which those we honor fought . . . and too many gave their lives . . . and to shout from the housetops that because of men and women with the courage to honor, uphold and defend the American way of life . . . our individual and collective freedom is a monument to their sacrifices and everlasting glory.
We are here to recognize that freedom is not free but must be earned anew by each generation and that our nation is founded on things that cannot be bought or sold . . . you cannot buy a family or friends . . . you can buy a house, but you can’t buy a home . . . hard cash will not purchase the proper upbringing and moral development of young Americans—like those here today who are the hope for our future . . . money can’t buy religion . . . free, stable, responsible government cannot be purchase.
We are here to acknowledge our indebtedness to America’s Veterans because they bought insurance that has given us a free country
. . . where we can live and work and enjoy the fruits of our labor . . .
. . . where every Mother’s son or daughter is a future president . . .
. . . where any young man or woman can start from scratch and become a millionaire . . .
. . . where we are all free to rise to whatever heights God will lead us, and by our strength to strengthen others . . .
Yes, we are here to assure our nation’s Veterans—here and gone—that because of what they did and the things they stood for . . . we understand
. . . that to be born a free American is an accident . . .
. . . to live as a free American is a responsibility . . .
. . . but to die a free American is an obligation . . . .
[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]