Bill Schonely Honors Veterans With Moving Memorial Day Speech
By sarahhecht Posted in: billschonely
Early Monday morning I had the extraordinary pleasure of listening to Trail Blazers legendary broadcaster Bill Schonely, a Marine during the Korean War era, deliver the keynote speech at the Memorial Day ceremony at Willamette National Cemetery.
Thousands of people attended to join him in honoring the nation’s veterans, each one captivated as his golden voice echoed across the amphitheater and down across row upon row of headstones, each decorated with an American flag.
Instead of summing up Schonz’s speech I think it’s better to share it with you in it’s entirety. I was incredibly moved by every word he said, it’s the best story I’ve ever heard him tell.
So as you read on, hear the smooth tones of our beloved broadcaster’s voice and feel the meaning he put into every powerful word he used to honor our veterans.
Bill Schonely’s Memorial Day Address
“Thank you, it’s an honor and a privilege to join you today. Sargent William Schonely, United States Marine Corp, 1082242, reporting for duty.
Special guest, honorees, all those of you in the military, civilians, welcome. I’ve been called many names in my life including The Schonz, Mr. Rip City as you probably know, but the title that means the most to me is the title of United States Marine.
While I was never called upon to go into battle, I was on my way to China and to Korea area back in nineteen-hundred and forty-eight. A lot of my buddies went the other way and the Marine Corp in the United States, they called me back to duty on the east coast. But it was there where I learned the true meaning of the words duty, honor and country. And it is there where I had the honor of serving alongside true American heroes.
One of those heroes was my father. He was a Navy career veteran, Chief Petty Officer Walter Schonely. But on those early days when we were growing up, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Independence Day, Veterans Day, my father who loved his country, loved his God, loved his family took myself and my two brothers and we would march in the Memorial Day parade in the town of Norristown, Pennsylvania not to far from Philadelphia. And we would go down Main Street, High school marching bands, American Legion drum and bugle corp and go through the city, actually it was a borough, a small town, and went up to the cemetery such as this. Not as large as this but of course in those days the World War I veterans. And it was instilled into me at a young age that I was destined to be in one of the branches of the service. The thought of my father.
And then it was later on, that fateful day, December 7, 1941. Prior to that my father decided to leave the Navy, come home to marry his childhood sweetheart and then raise a family. After church one Sunday we took a little drive, we went up to a town called Redding, Pennsylvania, and we had lunch. We came out of that luncheon area, got into the car, my dad behind the wheel, I was to the right, my mother and my two brothers in the back seat and he turned on the radio and he heard that America had gone to war with Japan. Now he’d been out of the Navy for a while, he turned around looked in the back seat. He said, ‘June,’ that was my mother’s name, ‘tomorrow morning I’m going down to the Philadelphia Navy yard and reenlist if they will have me. I must help my country.’ I will never, ever forget that. He was a true American.
But let me continue this morning by talking about the word hero. As you know I’ve spent my career broadcasting games played by athletes who some regard as heroes. It was been an incredibly fun and enjoyable career for which I am very grateful. But let me clear in saying that while professional athletes are incredibly talented and many are even outstanding role models for out young people, the term hero is one that should be reserved for those that we remember today.
In fact, I am reminded every Memorial Day of a story told about General George C. Marshall who commanded America’s troops in World War II. Marshall was asked one day if America had a secret weapon that would ensure victory in the war. General Marshall replied, ‘Yes, America has a secret weapon, it’s the best darn kids in the world.’ America was victorious in World War II frankly because we had the best darn kids in the world. Kids who were willing to risk and give their life so that freedom might survive. It always does. So today in ceremonies like this across the country we gather not as Republicans or Democrats or conservatives or liberals or sports fans, but we unite today simply as Americans to remember the priceless contributions made by the best darn kids in the world.
There’s a gentleman who was laid to rest a number of years ago right here in this cemetery, Pat Patterson. He was born in Missoula, Montana, died in Milwaukie, Oregon. Born in 1919, died in 2003. He served with the 47th Infantry Regiment, Ninth US Division from 1941 until the end of World War II. He participated in all eight major battles involving the 47th during the regiment’s 19 months of combat. French Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland. He was an infantry scout injured three times and for a brief period held captive by the Germans. Pat Patterson at the age of 26 was one of the old men of the regiment at wars end. A title respect given to those few who had been with the 47th at the landings in Morocco to the German surrender in 1945. But perhaps something that Pat wrote home to his parents back there in Missoula, Montana, in February of 1945, three months before Germany surrendered, gives a glimpse of why he, and later thousand of US combat veterans like him, saw no glamour or glory in war, yet they fully understood why they were there and doing what they were doing. In part, this is the letter to his folks,
‘We the GIs take a lot of things for granted that you at home have never seen. Hundreds of bombers going over until the ground actually shakes form the roar of their motors. The while on dive-bombers just starting their dives until it becomes a scream as they near their targets. And the the whomp of a bomb. Lots of things like that you’ve probably never heard or never will. Thank God. And thank God also that you will never hear a scraping plane or an incoming shell or a silence so dead that it actually becomes deafening only to be broken by the shatter of an enemy machine gun. More and more shots from guns on both sides. Shouting and the screaming of men. Then silence. Or see homes that are now nothing but shells and used only as nests for machine guns and snipers or people that are homeless and starving. There are persons in the US,’ he goes on, ‘why we are over here fighting instead of waiting until they come to us. They should do some serious thinking about a few things that I have mentioned. Personally I want to come back to a home that has a damn good chance of still being there. I want to come home to people I love.’ That was Pat Patterson, he’s buried here at Willamette National Cemetery.
There is another group of heroes that we should remember and honor today and I’m talking about the family members of those who wore and who wear our country’s uniform. Sometimes temporarily separated from their loved ones by continents and oceans and then sometimes permanently separated by the Heavens. To the mothers, the fathers, the wives, the husbands, sons and daughters of our veterans everywhere please know that all of you have earned the thanks of a grateful nation as well.
Ladies and gentleman, as I thought about what I wanted to say this morning it dawned on me that I should confess something to you. That’s the fact that one of my favorite parts of a professional basketball game or other sporting event is not the game itself, it’s the playing of our national anthem right before the game or the event, and played correctly. There was nothing quite like 15,000, 35,000, 60,000 people standing at attention saluting or with the hand over their heart. And as you all know the Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key to describe how he felt when he saw the American flag, Old Glory, still flying high after a battle during the War of eighteen-hundred and twelve. And while it’s important to honor our flag every day, perhaps today, Memorial Day, is a day when we can honor with everything we have.
And if you’re like me you were taught to honor our flag from an early age by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. What I would like to share with you today are some remarks delivered by the famed comedian and actor Redd Skelton. Many, many years ago Redd was a true American. On his television show in January of 1969, Redd spoke about a teacher that he had as a young boy when he was growing up in the state of Indiana, Mr. Lazwell was his name. And he told Redd and his fellow students one day that he had been listening to them recite the Pledge of Allegiance all semester and it seemed like it was becoming monotonous to them. He goes on, ‘what does the pledge mean?’ The teacher then wondered if the students understood the meaning of each word of the pledge and then he decided to make sure by giving them the definitions.
Now put yourself in your class at an early age and Mr. Lazwell is up there prim and proper, tie, vest. Talking to his students. And Mr. Lazwell recited the following, listen to the words.
‘Boys and girls I want you to listen to this. The Pledge of Allegiance. I, me and individual, a committee of one. Pledge, dedicate all of my worldly goods, a committee of one. Allegiance, my love and my devotion. To the flag, our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of courage and wherever she waves there’s respect because you’re loyalty has given her dignity that shouts freedom is everyone’s job. Of the United, now that means we have all come together. States, individual communities that have united into our great states, individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose, all divided by imaginary boundaries yet united to a common cause and that’s love of country, love of America. And the republic, a sovereign state at which power is invested into representatives are chosen by the people to govern and the government is the people and it is from the people to the leaders, not the from the leaders to the people. For which it stands, one nation, meaning so blessed by God. Indivisible, incapable of being divided. With liberty, which is freedom, the right of power for one to live his own life without fears, threats or any sort of retaliation. And justice, the principle and qualities of dealing fairly with others. For all, for all that means boys and girls, ladies and gentleman, it’s as much your country as it is mine.’ And then he states, ‘Since I was a small boy two states have been added to our country and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance, under God.’ Wouldn’t it be a pity if someone said that as a prayer and that would be eliminated from schools too? Think about it.
Let me leave you today with a story about one of those best darn kids in the world. His name was Brian Bertrand. He was from Coos Bay Oregon and in January 2002 in the first weeks of the war in Afghanistan, Brian lost his life when the C-130 in which he was riding crashed into the hills near the Afghan/Pakistan border. A month before his death this true American hero had been given the option of returning to duty in the United States. He declined. And in a letter to his parents explaining his decision Brian wrote these words.‘The truth is, I like doing this stuff. I like going to crazy places and doing what we have done. I just can’t see myself home while other people are out here. You know me, I have sitting on the bench.’
So ladies and gentleman, on this Memorial Day, let us all thank God that we are blessed with the opportunity to live in a country that produces individuals like Brian Bertrand. Let us never, let us never ever take that blessing for granted. And when it comes to always remembering the sacrifices made by the men and women of America’s military, civilians, our National Guard, let us, all of us, never be found sitting on the bench.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.”