U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge
140th Anniversary of Gettysburg Address &
Dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery
(as prepared for delivery on 11/19/03)
Thank you, Larry (Taylor), for that kind introduction.
It is my honor to be with you here today and to represent President Bush. I know he wishes he could be here, but he wanted to give me the chance to come home, and I appreciate that.
At the dedication of this cemetery in 1863, Edward Everett spoke for two hours before Abraham Lincoln delivered the eloquent Gettysburg Address in just two minutes. While I cannot approach Lincoln's economy of words, I can promise you that I will not be up here for two hours either.
But I do welcome the opportunity to help commemorate, as Lincoln did so effectively 140 years ago, a cemetery of such supreme importance to our Nation. This place marks the sacrifice of not only the nearly 7,000 soldiers resting here, but all the many souls who have paid the ultimate price for our liberty in wars across the globe.
Just last week we honored America's veterans - those brave men and women who carried our flag into battle. They have contributed mightily to the greatest story of our Nation - the cause of freedom. Veterans help connect us to those soldiers buried here at Gettysburg and other sacred places from Arlington Cemetery to Omaha Beach to hometowns across America.
They can tell us about the sacrifice, the hardship, and the brutality of war. And they can help us better appreciate their comrades in arms who gave - as Lincoln said - the "last full measure of devotion." After all, they served at the side of these fallen heroes and held them in their arms to say goodbye.
Their legacy is the freedom we enjoy today - a reminder that freedom has not come without a fight, or a price. Never was that more true than during the Civil War. Here at Gettysburg alone - in a three day battle that would turn the tide of the war - more than 45,000 soldiers were killed or injured. Sadly, it did not matter which uniform they wore or on which side of the front line they fell. All of them were Americans.
In the middle of that treacherous conflict, it must have been difficult to see the enemy as our own. But that was the spirit which Abraham Lincoln sought to preserve - the unity of our great country. He recognized that the dead soldiers at his feet "gave their lives that [this] nation might live."
Today, we are engaged in a war with a far less apparent enemy, but no less important purpose - the endurance of our freedom. On September 11th, America faced a new threat to our way of life and the preservation of our union. But Lincoln's powerful message still applies today - 140 years later - in a new age, for a new generation, facing a new enemy.
We will never forget what happened on that otherwise clear September day in New York, and Washington, and here in our home state. As the Twin Towers fell, and the Pentagon burned, and the wreckage of Flight 93 scattered across a field 100 miles from here, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the "first shot" of a global war on terror.
The dead have left their mark. Theirs was a unique sacrifice, innocent lives too soon gone but not soon forgotten. We trust that into whatever kind arms they have fallen, they know that freedom will endure for their family and their friends and the country they left behind.
Just as Lincoln urged the survivors of Gettysburg to dedicate themselves to the "unfinished work" of these dead soldiers, we too must labor in the footsteps of terror's victims. For many, that means going to work every day, turning the engine of a great economy. For others, it means charging into harm's way, helping others in their moment of greatest need. And for others still, it means protecting our homeland from the possibility of another attack.
The war on terror is occurring in an age when threats come packaged in a suitcase or an envelope, when terrorists have access to a steady supply of technologies, and funds, and willing recruits. This war is one that is hard fought every day and constantly changing.
But, I can tell you that the images of 9-11 resonate deep within the people who work to secure our country. They remind us of the importance of our mission and motivate us when the path seems long and full of obstacles.
And down that path is a vision - a future worth working hard for every single day. It is a time when our nation will not only be stronger thanks to a network of virtually invisible security measures. But, in the keeping of our safety, we will be hugely advanced by vast collaborations in information sharing, technology and economic development. And from these partnerships will come progress in every field of human endeavor -- commerce, science, medicine and more -- such that perhaps true democracy and full prosperity will be in the hands, or close reach, of nations in want and need of those opportunities today.
This goal to which we strive is a natural extension of the one Lincoln laid out on the grounds of this battlefield nearly a century and a half ago. In the name of those who had died, he promised that our nation would have a "new birth of freedom." And as a result of the continuing resolve of all Americans, a "government of the people, by the people, for the people, [would] not perish from the earth."
President Bush has called us to the same purpose. The attack we suffered on September 11th brought about a new consciousness in our country, one which has led us toward new measures to increase the security which ensures our freedom. And every day we honor those who died with a renewed dedication to the great cause of our Nation - liberty for everyone who desires it.
One of the reasons Lincoln needed only 272 words in the Gettysburg Address is because the message was so clear - our dedication to the principles of freedom and liberty must be unwavering. It requires work, it requires leadership, and it requires sacrifice. Lincoln provided them all, and in so doing allowed the bright light of freedom to shine on every corner of our country.
In taking the time to remember the Gettysburg Address, however, I am reminded of something I heard said of Lincoln. That we would be much better off if we imitate his actions as often as we quote his speeches.
This ceremony is not only about listening to this remarkable address, as we will get the chance to do in just a minute, but taking his words and turning them into actions.
Today, as we look to the past and prepare for the future, Lincoln's clarity of purpose still does guide the actions of the country he worked so hard to protect. We are all heirs to his great character and with this inheritance comes a responsibility to serve as he did - with grace, fortitude, and moral certainty - and to remain as dedicated as he was to the "great task remaining before us."
I can assure you that we will. We will persevere in the fight for freedom, we will not falter in the face of terrorism, and we will not fail to preserve this, the greatest Nation in the world.
"Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania" is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.