2007 Jeff Shaara Speech
Mr. Secretary ,Mayor, and all distinguished guests, forgive me for being nervous. I speak a great deal to bookstore audiences and when the publisher sends me out on tour the idea, of course, to promote a book, to sell a book, and boy is this different from that. This is an extraordinary occasion and it has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with any of us up here. This has to do with something that happened a long time ago and the fact we’re here remembering this, I think, is a greater treasure than anything Abraham Lincoln could have expected from his remarks that day. My job is to be the story teller. Its not about memorizing names, dates, places, facts, and figures, all those things that tend to alienate young people from the study of history; the reason why high school kids or middle school kids walk out of their history classes vowing never to pick up that book again. That’s a shame. What I try to do is something a little different from that. It’s to find that in history, in these charters, in the events, a story. Something that will entertain, that will bring you back in. So where you might not have wanted to memorize the Gettysburg Address in the eleventh grade, now the words have meaning and they have greater meaning than Abraham Lincoln would have understood.
Walk this ground walk where we are. In searching for the story it starts with the ground it starts with this place. It starts with the high water mark or little round top or the Reynolds monument. It starts with finding out, first of all, with what happened here. Lincoln certainly knew what happened here. The whole country was shocked, was mortified, was devastated with what happened here. 56,000 people killed wounded or missing that’s what happened here. How do you deal with that? How do you celebrate that? It’s a terrible worry but in a way that’s what we’re doing because we cannot forget the people or the event. My job is to find the people. My father’s job, his magnificent work the Killer Angels which is responsible for bring possibly some of you and a great number of people to this place, to find out about these people, to find out what happened here. My father used to give a great amount of talks around the country and he would say, you know, he had been to Europe a great deal traveled the Middle East, and he would say you know, everywhere you turn there is holy land. Holy land is all over the place in the Middle East. Holy land is all over Europe. To many Americans that’s kind of a quaint notion, the idea of holy land. Well we’re here, this is our holy land.
My father understood that and so he treated these characters in his novel, the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, treated them with reverence. I inherited the, inherited that sense of obligation to get it right but primarily to tell a story that you will remember. That when Abraham Lincoln speaks on this piece of ground on this hill right over here, it’s not simply another speech, another group of words lost to history that some poor eleventh grader is forced to memorize to pass a test. The words have meaning. Words have meaning to all of us; this ground has meaning to all of us. When I first walked this ground I was 12 years old and that was a long time ago; the early 60’s. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what my father had gotten himself into and here 40 plus years later here we are. When I see the young people in this audience, the school groups, the infants that people bring to this ground, that’s our future. That’s the future of our country. That’s the future of our culture and it’s a future that Abraham Lincoln was desperately trying to communicate to his audience that day. That we need to nourish, we need to cherish, and much like the past that’s preserved in hidden history books, it’s the young people that will carry those memories, carry those characters forward, And enable them to live generation after generation.
You know where coming up on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War of the Gettysburg Address. That is a mile stone, it’s a calendar, it’s a date on the calendar but it’s a symbol. A century and half later we remember a little over a year from now Abraham Lincolns 200th birthday. We remember that’s my job I’m a humble messenger, a conduit for these characters and whether its Lincoln, George Washington Ben Franklin, I could go through the cast, the point is that these people accomplished something extraordinary; they gave us our country. Washington gave us the birth of our country, Abraham Lincoln allowed it to survive and that is something we must never forget. Thank you.
"Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania" is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.