On Memorial Day, decorated veteran delivers message of citizenship

Mark Weber
Lt. Col. Mark Weber gives the keynote speech at the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Snelling National Cemetery on Monday, May 27, 2013.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

The Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Snelling this year was in some ways typical, with bagpipes, brass and a 21-gun salute.

But the keynote speech was far from common.

Hundreds gathered at Fort Snelling National Cemetery Monday to honor fallen military servicemen and women. They heard messages about duty and service and the meaning of citizenship in a speech from a soldier who is currently confronting his own death.

It came from decorated veteran and author, Lt. Col. Mark Weber. And it focused not on the sacrifices of those in uniform, but on the duty of all Americans — the duty of citizenship.

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"People want to complain about how bad politics is, well step up to the plate! You want to honor the fallen? Then be a good citizen. Be part of the process," Weber said.

For Weber, citizenship begins with open-mindedness.

"Being a good citizen on this score demands seeking perspective, which requires you to look where you don't ordinarily look," Weber said. "Read what you don't ordinarily read. And listen to those who you do not ordinarily listen to. And I mean really listen."

Weber has been thinking a lot about the meaning of citizenship, and the meaning of life. After 24 years in the military, the 41-year-old is now fighting a losing battle with cancer.

The St. Paul native has won national attention for his book "Tell My Sons: A Father's Last Letters." He has three children, and the book is written as a collection of advice for them.

When Weber ended his military service last year due to his terminal disease, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, came to Minnesota to speak at a ceremony in his honor. The Minnesota National Guard posted the video online. In it, Dempsey said he'd learned a lot from Lt. Col. Weber:

"That the greatest value of a life is to spend it for something that lives after it. That in the end, you become what you are through the causes to which you attach yourself. And that in many ways it can be a far higher ideal in life to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. I'll always remember those lessons from Mark Weber."

At Monday's Memorial Day ceremony, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she recently spoke with Dempsey. Kolbuchar said the general asked about one soldier during that meeting — Lt. Col. Mark Weber.