AL, UNITED STATES
PRINCETON, N.J. - In the historic Princeton Cemetery, chirping birds were silenced and the crisp spring air shattered by the clear, ringing notes of Taps as distinguished guests participated in a special wreath-laying memorial service commemorating the 175th birthday of President Grover Cleveland.
Part of the annual Presidential Wreath Laying Ceremony program sponsored by the White House Military Office, the ceremony afforded community members and guests the opportunity to honor the former president.
Among those present were special guests Robert Maguire, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for New Jersey; Chad Goerner, mayor of Princeton Township; Yima Moore, mayor of Princeton Borough; and Maj. Gen. William D. R. Waff, commanding general of the 99th Regional Support Command, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
The dignitaries approached the president's grave on a crimson carpet and presented a wreath of scarlet and white carnations threaded with brilliant blue irises and festooned with ribbons to honor the legacy of the first democrat elected after the Civil War, a president of firsts throughout the country and in the White House.
"President Cleveland is the only U.S. president to have ever served non-consecutive terms," said Waff, "first from 1884 to 1888, then from 1892-1896."
During Cleveland's first term, he had the honor of accepting the Statue of Liberty from the people of France.
"To this day one of the great symbols of America, the Statue of Liberty, a gift to commemorate the United States' first 100 years, remains ever-vigilant and stands watch in New York Harbor," said Waff.
Also ever vigilant was Cleveland as he sought to do right by the office entrusted to him.
While many considered Cleveland's creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission regulating railroads, trucking, bus lines and telephone companies or his passage of the Enabling Act in 1984 leading to Utah becoming the 45th state his greatest achievements, Waff feels differently.
"What strikes me most were his final words spoken before his death here in Princeton June 24, 1908," explained Waff.
Waff demystified his comment by explaining that the president's final words, “I have tried so hard to do right," create a bond between the former commander in chief and every soldier, private through general, who has served, is serving or will serve.
"As soldiers, we live by the seven Army Values - Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage," furthered Waff. "The Army definition of integrity is 'do what's right, legal and morally' and President Cleveland's last words certainly strike home."
The words not only strike home to Waff, but are intrinsic to the spirit of soldiers across the globe.
"Right now, nearly 18,000 Army Reserve soldiers are keeping the flame of Liberty's torch lit around the world, often serving in harm's way to preserve our freedoms and way of life, " Waff added. "These men and women are trying so hard to 'do right' just as President Cleveland did during his many years of public office."
Holding strong to his own core values, Cleveland showed he cared about America and its citizens believed what he was doing was right for their futures.
"He vetoed more pieces of legislation than the first 21 presidents combined," said Mayor Chad Goerner, mayor of Princeton Township.
Goerner went on to explain that Cleveland vetoed more than "580 pieces of legislation" that he felt were not in the best interests of America and her citizens, concluding that "he [Cleveland] definitely faced office with integrity and always tried to do what was right."
Waff appreciates the example set by the former commander in chief.
"I try to instill the Army Values in all soldiers under my command so that when their service to this great nation comes to an end, they can look in the mirror and repeat Presidents Cleveland's last words, 'I have tried so hard to do right.'"
This work, President's last words echo Army Values, by SFC Alyn-Michael Macleod, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.