On Memorial Day, in honor of those who have died in the service of the United States Armed Forces, we are treated to some of the most deeply moving speeches from courageous men and women across the country. In this Video Highlight, we’ll examine one such tribute from Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch (USMC Ret.), delivered to a group of veterans and others on Memorial Day 2012 in San Diego.

What we can learn from this speech:

  • Establish credibility (ethos): Popaditch notes early on that he learned veteran history at “recruit training a couple miles from here,” showing his personal local connection to this place and this audience.  He then weaves in his own military service as a part of the story, not as a forced or patronizing gesture.  (“When we got to Baghdad, that’s when Memorial Day truly came home for me…”)
  • Have a theme and stick to it (logos): The unmistakable theme of the speech is the courage of soldiers in combat, even under impossible odds.    Every story is selected by Popaditch to support this point.  Because there are no tangents or distractions, the speech is able to land massive impact despite being very short by the standard of most speeches of this kind.
  • Know your audience: In addition to the war in Iraq, Popaditch’s speech contains allusions from the Vietnam War, Korean War, and World War II, giving him a chance to connect with (and honor) every generation of veterans present at the event.  (“You Vietnam veterans out there… I was born on your watch, under the liberty you were providing.”)
  • Imagery (pathos): Popaditch paints a vivid picture of a young corporal’s final moments before succumbing to his wounds after an ambush. (E.g. “They looked down at [him] and said…”)
  • Pacing: Although delivered with a faster clip than would be ideal for most speeches, the pacing works here by reflecting and even enhancing the theme of military commitment, as though Popaditch himself is on a march.

Where the speech could be improved:

  • Variation: The fast pace and military style of the speech serves Popaditch well, but if he had broken with the style just once or twice, those breakpoints would have created very powerful moments for the audience.
  • Ending strong: Popaditch transitions from the passing of the corporal to the last sentence of the speech rather abruptly.  His last line–“Thank you for my freedom, and thank you for this great nation”–is a powerful line to end on and which wraps up the speech well, but he should have given his emotional story more time to digest with the audience.

Enjoy the speech, and Happy Memorial Day!