Saturday, November 19, 2011

Changing courses a bit

Did you know that on this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address? It was at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a little more than four months after the devastating battle, on a cold, foggy morning.

Lincoln arrived about 10 in the morning and the sun came out around noon. People gathered on a hill that overlooked the battlefield while a military band played. A local preacher offered a typically long prayer.

Edward Everett, a politician, said, "It is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. But the duty to which you have called me must be performed - grant me, I pray you, your indulgence and your sympathy." He continued for more than two hours, describing the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once.

Then, Lincoln spoke.

His Gettysburg Address was just over two minutes and contained fewer than 300 words. Only 10 sentences, it is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. It was so brief, that many of the 15,000 people attending the ceremony didn't realize the president had spoken, because a photographer setting up his camera had distracted them. It seems people are the same generation after generation.

The next day, Everett told Lincoln, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."

Copies of at least five different manuscripts exist, each slightly different. Some argue about which is the "authentic" version. Mr. Lincoln gave copies to both of his private secretaries, and he rewrote the other three versions some time after his speech. Named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, the Bliss Copy is the only copy that was signed and dated by Lincoln, and it's generally accepted as the official version. This is the version inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial and follows here:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

300 words
10 sentences
2 minutes

He wrote one of the most powerful and memorable pieces ever. I am "dedicated here to the unfinished work" and am eager to read reports that the heads on the USS George HW Bush, once she ports at home, will be upgraded, enhanced, fixed, repaired and in operable condition for all future cruises.

Our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends and cousins and total strangers will continue to deploy on that majestic ship long after my son retires. It is my ardent hope and trust that my tax dollars will go toward ensuring that ship's company and air wing alike on that and all other ships in the entire United States Navy will never again face the indignity of what one writer called "the pee pee dance," while on board.