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Remembering What Memorial Day Is All About

Celebration At Union Station

May 24, 2015 - This speech was written for Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders. Although his elected peers preferred to essentially act as "cheerleaders" at a prep rally celebrating the start of summer, we opted to focus on the true meaning of Memorial Day and Union Station's historical role in the World Wars.

Union Station has been the scene, no doubt, of many celebrations. None were more joyous, I suspect, than those family moments, when servicemen and women returned to their loved ones here in the Grand Hall—under the clock—after each of the World Wars.


Of the U.S. troops who fought in those great conflicts, pitting liberty against tyranny, half passed through these doors. Trains passing through Union Station carried them to bases all around the United States. Trains passing through Union Station brought them home.

As we gather here this evening, let’s remember and honor those who never made it back home… those who are not with us… those who, in defense of our great nation, gave their lives.

To put in perspective what Lincoln called the “sacrifices laid upon the altar of freedom,” consider the fact that the population of our metropolitan region is, today, about 2.3 million people. Now pause a moment to reflect on this number: In the course of our proud history, more than 2.7 million courageous American men and women have died in conflicts waged all around the globe. From the American Revolution to Afghanistan.

Who can calculate how many loved ones those millions left behind? Loved ones like the son of Edward O’Dell Mullins, Jr.

Our greatest monument to those who’ve perished, so America could persevere, is to make our country, through its greatness, a living tribute—fully worthy of their sacrifice.

Seventy years ago, O’Dell was a young man about whom one might have said, “He has his whole life ahead of him.” Except his life was in grave peril.

In the late summer of 1945, Army Private Mullins was fighting the last remnants of the Japanese forces in the Philippines. He had already earned a Bronze Star, eliminating two enemy machine gun positions during an ambush in July of 1945. By mid-August, the atomic bombs had been dropped. President Truman wanted to end World War II as quickly as possible because he knew as long as soldiers were still on the front lines lives were being lost every day.

Every minute mattered.

As it turns out, the cease-fire that ended the war came 45 minutes too late to save O’Dell Mullins. On August 14, 1945, a sniper’s bullet cut him down. He died instantly. He was 24 years old; his son had turned 2 the previous Sunday.

Forty-five minutes—just 45 minutes—later, the shooting stopped. P-F-C Mullins was the last of 405,399 Americans killed in World War II. He is but one of the 2.7 million we owe a debt of unmeasurable gratitude.

They lost their lives—so millions more could enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

While we have raised great memorials to honor our heroes—you need only look behind you at that great pillar rising 265 feet into the heavens—it is our obligation that we not let the passage of time diminished our appreciation of the monumental sacrifices so many brave souls have made for our freedom.

As World War II ended, Harry S. Truman noted no victory could bring back O’Dell Mullin and all the other fallen heroes. President Truman said, “It is our responsibility—ours, the living—to see to it that this victory shall be a monument worthy of the dead who died to win it.”

Seventy years later, those words continue to ring true. Our greatest monument to those who’ve perished, so America could persevere, is to make our country, through its greatness, a living tribute—fully worthy of their sacrifice.

God bless the 2.7 million and all their families. God bless America.

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