- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004


How do Americans remember their dead? As Memorial Day approaches, that question is addressed in a new book, “Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time,” edited by Cyrus M. Copeland.

The following are excerpts from the book:

The Challenger astronauts

Their truest testimony will not be in the words we speak, but in the way they led their lives and in the way they lost their lives — with dedication, honor and an unquenchable desire to explore this mysterious and beautiful universe.

We think back to the pioneers of an earlier century, and the sturdy souls who took their families and their belongings and set out into the frontier of the American West. Often, they met with terrible hardship. Along the Oregon Trail, you can still see the grave markers of those who fell on the way. But grief only steeled them to the journey ahead.

Today, the frontier is space and the boundaries of human knowledge. Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain. Our nation is indeed fortunate that we can still draw on immense reservoirs of courage, character and fortitude — that we are still blessed with heroes like those of the space shuttle Challenger.

Delivered by President Reagan, 1986

Actor Humphrey Bogart

In each of the fountains at Versailles, there is a pike that keeps all the carps active; otherwise, they would grow over-fat and die. Bogie took rare delight in performing a similar function in Hollywood. Pretensions crumpled under his attack. Yet his victims seldom bore him any malice, and when they did, not for long. His shafts were fashioned only to stick into the outer layer of complacency, and not to penetrate through to the regions of the spirit where real injuries are done.

The great houses of Beverly Hills, and for that matter, of the world, were so many shooting galleries so far as Bogie was concerned, but his own house was a sanctuary. Within those walls anyone, no matter how elevated his position, could breathe easy. Bogie’s hospitality went far beyond food and drink. He fed a guest’s spirit as well as his body, plied him with good will until he became drunk in the head as well as in the legs.

This tradition of wonderful hospital-ity continued on to the last hour he was able to sit upright.

Delivered by film director John Huston, 1957

Comedian Jack Benny

For a man who was the undisputed master of comedy timing, you’d have to say that this was the only time when Jack Benny’s timing was all wrong. He left us much too soon.

He was stingy to the end. He gave us only 80 years, and it wasn’t enough.

And it’s an amusing footnote that the penny-pinching cheapskate we all knew and loved was portrayed by a man who gave so much of himself to all of us. Though the idol of millions, he remained modest. Though the homes of the great were open to him, he remained a simple man. Though blessed with a sharp wit, he never used it to injure or belittle.

Admired by presidents and royalty, he never lost the humble, down-to-earth quality of Benny Kubelsky from Waukegan [Illinois]. Kings and porters, they were all the same to Jack. He gave the same smile to everybody. He was getting ready to do a picture called “The Sunshine Boys.” But then Jack was always getting ready to do something, whether a concert, a television show or a benefit, and besides, he was always a Sunshine Boy. He brought more sunshine to this world than Easter morning.

Delivered by Bob Hope, 1974

Mark Twain

This is not the time nor the place for eulogy for the famous writer, the honored representative of American letters in the world of literature. We are here reminded of the frailty of mortal flesh and the brevity of our stay on earth. We think of Mark Twain not as a celebrity, but as a man whom we loved. We remember the reality that made his life worth living — his laughing enmity of all sham; his love for truth; his honesty; his honor.

Delivered by the Rev. Henry Van Dyke, 1910

Musician Chet Atkins

He was an artist, and there was no pretense in him; he never waved the flag or held up the cross or traded on his own sorrows. He was a guitarist. His humor was self-deprecating; he was his own best critic. He inspired all sorts of players who never played anything like him. He was generous and admired other players’ work, and he told them so. He had a natural reserve to him, but when he admired people, he went all out to tell them about it. And just because there was no deception in him, his praise meant more than just about anything else. If Chet was a fan of yours, you never needed another one.

Delivered by Garrison Keillor, 2001

John F. Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a great and good president, the friend of all people of good will, a believer in the dignity and equality of all human beings, a fighter for justice and apostle of peace, has been snatched from our midst by the bullet of an assassin.

It has been said that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn. But surely we can learn if we have the will to do so. Surely there is a lesson to be learned from this tragic event. If we really love this country, if we truly love justice and mercy, if we fervently want to make this nation better for those who are to follow us, we can at least abjure the hatred that consumes people, the false accusations that divide us, and the bitterness that begets violence.

Delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren, 1963

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