Wealthy Americans


By MAJOR A. G. RUDD, Vice-Commander, William Bradford Turner Post 265, American Legion

A Memorial Day Address at the Garden City High School, New York

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 566-567

WE are here today to honor the memory of patriotic Americans of former generations who wore the uniform of our country. The principles for which they fought and died are the backbone of our liberties today. In short, they have left you and me a great heritage—a kind of spiritual wealth that makes us all truly rich even though we may not have a single dollar to call our own.

You will see that I make a sharp distinction between wealth and money. For money is a commodity of value only for what it can be made to produce. Wealth has a much wider meaning. It implies an abundance of the things in life most desired, the finer things of spiritual, moral and ethical value.

Judged by this standard one may have as much money as Croesus and still be as poor as a church mouse. And onemay have no money at all but be a very wealth person. And so I insist that you boys and girls are truly wealthy for the simple reason that, as sovereign American citizens, you have a greater share of the finer things of life than any other people on earth.

Now what are some of these elements of wealth? They are the God-given liberties and opportunities granted to all Americans under that immortal charter the Constitution of the United States, with its amendments. For many years most Americans have taken this spiritual wealth for granted. We have been inclined to feel that we could never lose these rights and so we have concentrated our energies on personal interests and ambitions.

First, we are guaranteed by our Constitution freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These rights are ours byvirtue of the written law of the land. Think what a blessing that is! What do you suppose the down-trodden and persecuted masses of Nazi Germany would give for freedom such as this?

Then we have the right of free assembly, the right to petition our government against grievances, and the right to a fair trial by jury of our peers. What do you suppose the enslaved people of Communist Russia would give for these liberties you so freely enjoy? What do you think the oppressed masses of Poland, France and Czechoslovakia, and a dozen other countries, crushed under the ruthless militarism of Nazis or Communists, would give for these basic liberties which mean so much to human happiness?

And then we have the right to own property under our system of private enterprise. Not only has this system given us the highest standard of living the world has ever known, but the right to own property is the very keystone of the arch supporting religious freedom and freedom of the press. Why? Because if the government owns the churches, as in Soviet Russia, there can be no freedom of religion. And when the government controls the publishing plants as in Nazi Germany, there can be no freedom of speech.

Each of these rights is worth a king's ransom to any lover of liberty. But they did not come easily. If you have beenwell-grounded in history you know that this spiritual wealth is the result of man's heroic struggle through the ages. In every century for the last 3,000 years men and women have fought, died or been horribly persecuted for the priceless heritage you enjoy today.

Do not hold it lightly. Do not take it for granted. Remember eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty. For Democracy is a delicate flower which must be constantly nurtured by civic interest if it is to flourish and to bloom.

In stressing the value of our priceless heritage I do not seek to have you live in the past. I would not have you oppose change which gives promise of bringing real progress. But the fundamental elements of liberty do not change. The basic human rights essential to your happiness and mine are precisely the same as they were 2,000 years ago.

And this spiritual wealth of which we are so proud—you did not earn it, nor did I. We inherited it. It resulted from the service and sacrifice of patriots whom we honor here today. But your responsibility will come soon as the custodians of this heritage. Your task will be to see that it is preserved unimpaired to future Americans. This will require a deep appreciation and understanding and a firm resolve to see that nothing dims its lustre.