Department of Florida

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Oratorical: Chair

From the Chair

October 2020

The Power of Great Oratory

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The Preamble to the Constitution. May 25th – September 17th,1787, Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“Fourscore and seven years ago our Fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19th, 1863 giving the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.

“It was we the people; not we the white male citizens, nor yet we the male citizens; but we the whole people who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and half of our prosperity, but to the whole people—women as well as men.”

American Voting Rights Activist, Susan B. Anthony, November 18, 1872, upon being arrested for having voted in the Presidential election. Incidentally, she voted a straight Republican ticket, and for Ulysses S. Grant for President. Anthony was fined 100.00 for the offense which she refused to pay. Forty eight years later, on August 18, 1920, the Constitution was amended and women were granted the right to vote. Wyoming was the first territory to allow women to vote.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Winston Churchill, August 20th, 1940, referring to the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force crews who were at the time fighting the Battle of Britain.

“And so my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

President John F. Kennedy giving his inaugural speech on Jan. 20, 1961

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

American Civil Rights Activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963 speaking at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

American Astronaut Neil Armstrong upon landing on and being the first human to walk on the surface of the moon, July 20th, 1969

“I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.”

President Ronald Reagan, Jan. 28th, 1986 speaking to the nation about the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle, killing Crista MacAuliffe, the first school teacher in orbit and six other courageous crew members whose shuttle mission lasted a mere 73 seconds. The speech was written by Peggy Noonan ( who also penned the famous “read my lips, no new taxes” for President George H. W. Bush.) The last sentence is paraphrased from the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

More recently “I Can’t Breathe,” is an example of the linguistic staying power of a protest phrase coined in 2014 after the police killing of Eric Garner in a chokehold. This phrase was listed as the number one notable quotation in 2014, in the Yale Book of Quotations, by Fred Shapiro. Words matter and indeed they are often mightier than the sword.

Great speeches lift our hearts in times of darkness; they give us hope in times of despair. They inspire courageous feats, honor the dead, celebrate the living and very often change the course of history.

Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. The simple choice of a word can make the difference between someone accepting or denying your message says Mohammed Qahtani, the 2015 World Champion of the Toastmasters. The words you choose influence how others perceive you, what decisions they make about you. They can build you up or in an instant, they can destroy you.

Consider the child who is eager to show his father that he has mastered the bike with no training wheels and the father says “Not now, son, I’m busy.” Or the mother who tells her daughter “You have a very pretty face” implying that all areas south of the neck are worth avoiding. Ever overhear your wife comparing you to a former lover? That can sting. Or stab. Or crush. Words can be cruel or kind but we can all agree they are powerful. Hence the adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

In an age where words are spilling out of us onto Facebook, in presentations, in casual conversations, on blogs, in emails, in texts, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhattsApp, to our neighbors and yes, even to our pets, are we giving our words enough thought? That, my friend, is a whole other conversation.

One reason I am passionate about the American Legion’s Oratorical Contest is that we are encouraging and giving students a forum to practice the art and craft of public speaking. Our contest has a strong focus on the Constitution and a citizen’s duty to their government and country. It’s a very relevant and meaningful topic to any citizen but certainly to Legionnaires, who fought in wars to protect our free speech and the right to dissent.

Gary May was a Marine in Vietnam and lost both legs during the Tet Offensive. He said it best: The freedom of expression, even when it hurts, is the truest test of our dedication to the belief that we have that right.

Public speaking and oratory are skills are essential to great leaders. We look to our leaders to effect change; to set the direction of our nation and build a vision for our future. The hardworking students who accept the challenge of the American Legion Oratorical Contest are likely to be leaders in the near future. They will become policy makers, lawyers, judges, doctors, great business leaders, educators and philanthropists. Sponsoring a contestant is one way to help the American Legion build and keep a meaningful legacy.

Central Area Sidney Damsgard
Eastern Area Chris Hamrick
Northern Area Doug Hockenberry
Southern Area & District 11 Johnny Castro
Southwestern Area Randy Eck
Western Area & District 1 Countess Guiles
District 2 Fred Ingley
District 3 Stuart Scott
District 4 Cherie Korn
District 5 Lena Herediaperez
District 6 Bill Thompson
District 7 Burl Thomas
District 8 William Hiltgen
District 9 Arthur Barber
District 12 Joseph McNeil
District 13 Michael Schwartz
District 14 Wayne Schorr
District 15 Kathryn Boyer
District 16 Bob Bober
District 17 David Lori

Meri West