In Memory of Those
Lost in Military Service
William C. Friday
April 12, 2007
We gather to dedicate the Carolina Alumni Memorial in memory of those lost in military service. They number 684 noble spirits whose names are inscribed in the Memorial Book that graces this place.
We thank Robert Eaves for the conception of such a memorial gathered while he was standing at historic Normandy. He, Sherwood Smith and Charles Winston and many more alumni applied their considerable talents, and Maggie Smith was commissioned to do the design. We gather now in solemn dedication of this completed effort, lovingly done with profound gratitude.
And this memorial fittingly sits in the heart of the campus of this great old University whose sons and daughters have been involved in every struggle when and where freedom was challenged around the world. Few institutions have sent so many into armed conflict in the defense of liberty. Few institutions have served the nation so faithfully and so well.
One day, during the early 1930s, my father took the time to share with me his uniform of World War I. He also brought out some faded photographs and gave me some heartfelt recollections of those hectic days of Army camp and the rain and the mud and the drill. He said his generation was told that they were fighting the war to end all wars, that they were fighting to make the world safe for democracy. And he especially remembered his fellow soldiers, some of whom were his high school classmates and the neighbor’s children. In those days, few had the opportunity to attend college.
Two decades later, that same dad had four sons standing before him showing him their uniforms. We, too, were fighting the war to end all wars, and we were stationed at all corners of the global conflict. My class of 1941 literally marched off the collegiate graduation platform into a global conflagration. First, it was the sands of North Africa, then the Mediterranean, the beaches of Normandy and central Europe, and then across the Pacific to Iwo Jima, Guadal Canal and, finally, the main deck of the Battleship Missouri, where it all ended. It was total mobilization – Willie and Joe and Rosie, too. The unity of spirit, and great dedication of effort, made victory certain.
Like my father, I, too, remembered classmates especially and vividly because my class had the high casualty rate; they were all young men, close to me, and an emotional part of my then young life. And on this day and at this hour, I remember each of them, and I can still see their faces.
Since my war, succeeding generations have fought other wars in Korea and Vietnam and Bosnia, Desert Storm and Somalia – all across the globe. And as we all know, we now have thousands of our young people engaged in a different kind of conflict, a different war in Iraq where more than 3,000 men and women, our finest, have given their lives. So, we memorialize their gallantry, their patriotism and their sacrifice: These sons and daughters of this place, itself born of revolution, and we do so with profound gratitude and abiding love.
And as we gather here deep within each of us there persists that question: “Why are so many of the best and brightest of each generation taken from us in these armed conflicts?” “Why do we engage in such costly and pervasive and now divisive wars that take so much from us materially and spiritually?” Why?
In another time, in another war, University President Edward Kidder Graham, speaking to the students about war, put it this way:
“The faith for which the world is now being tested out in the crucible of fire is the faith that with the right to live freely, men will live rightly; that with free choice between inferior and superior, free men will choose the better way and that knowledge and power to choose rightly comes from within. The issue of freedom is the only issue.”
And President Edward Kidder Graham defined that quality of patriotism and gallantry by telling of alumnus Isaac Avery, who led a brigade across that open field and when struck down lived long enough to write on an envelope crimson with his own blood, “Tell my father I died with my face to the foe.”
And Dr. Graham added for all Americans, “We are entrusted, not merely in making the world safe for democracy, but in making democracy worthy of their sacrifice.” “These are not empty phrases,” he added. “Cut them and they bleed with the life of men and women and children.”
So, on this beautiful April day, we give thanks and we give praise to those who, like us, once walked these paths, enjoying springtime and then gave their lives – made that sacrifice – in defense of our freedom to live here and to be responsible, patriotic citizens and public servants.
So what about us? “What are we doing to make our democracy worthy of the sacrifice of these 684 noble spirits?”
How would each of us answer that question today? Are we moving more towards peace, not only among nations, but among citizens at home? Are we vigilant in securing freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, security of our homes and freedom of want among our people? Just how sensitive are we to human suffering in Darfur and to the oppression in the global community in which we now live? What are we doing to return civility to public life and to restoring the posture of our country as a moral, compassionate and caring nation?
In our society, each of us is accountable and personally responsible through our own words and deeds as our conscience dictates; but we all know and we understand and we believe that our democracy, even though sometimes uneven and messy, still represents the best hope of humankind at home and throughout the world. We believe in freedom and liberty and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to make freedom and liberty secure for all people. The 684 lives we memorialize brought you and me to the special moment in independence that we so cherish. Here and now, you and I can do no less than rededicate our lives, our energy and our strength to make sure, very sure, that in our time, our generation will have done its part, done our very best to make this democracy worthy of the sacrifices of those we honor.
It is with grateful hearts and abiding love and profound humility that we pause at this moment to dedicate the Carolina Alumni Memorial: In Memory of Those Lost in Military Service.
May the Father of us all bless this place and the spirits of those who gave so much, indeed, their greatest gift, that you and I may live abundantly and live free.
CORRECTION, April 16, 2007
The original report posted on April 12 incorrectly identified the number of UNC alumni who are included in the Book of Names. This report includes the correct number, 684.