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Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran’s Day 2013

I’m not a particularly reflective kind of guy.

I don’t spend a hell of a lot of time dwelling on the past.

For me, as someone who spent most of my adult life in the uniform of my country, every day is a day to remember those I served with.

Every day is a day to remember those who trained me and led me, to remember those I served alongside of, to remember those I trained and led myself. 

Those men and women – the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those that still live and serve and fight, those who like me who have hung up their swords, and those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day. 

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.

If you’re an American, you owe your freedom to those who risked all in your name.

You don’t need to kiss our asses, you’re not required to shed tears, you don’t need to hunt down a veteran and prostrate yourself.

Veterans Day is not a wake. It’s simply a day to remember.

In our country, in a free society, the soldier is no more revered than any other citizen.

We respect the warrior, but we do not worship him.

And that’s how it should be for there is no glory in war. It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it. We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight. But it is a duty, a profession, a job that must be done, not some glorious spectacle.  

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can, and should, strive to make it so. Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more. Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

Until then, on this day, do take a moment to remember the warriors. 

We set aside today in order to acknowledge those who did their duty to the best of their ability. Raise a glass and honor those who served their country in peace and in conflict, those who came when called – both those who came against their will and those who came of their own volition – all of those who came to stand between home and war’s desolation.

This is their day.

Honor them and then, and then, go on about your lives.

Live.

Be free, revel in it – because that, ultimately, is why they do what they do.

 

To all of my brothers and sisters in arms, those of you who wore the uniform, those of you who have stood the watch, those of you who walked point into the unknown, and those of you who are even now out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, my message to you remains ever the same:

Respect is earned, each and every day, by every word, by every action. Respect cannot be bought. Respect cannot be bargained for. Respect can be lost with a single thoughtless deed, with a single careless gesture, by a single failure to act.

Men and women will lay down their lives at your command, but they won’t do it for freedom or democracy or other such ideals, they won’t do it because you’re bigger or tougher or because you’re the meanest son of bitch who ever lived or because you’re smarter or better educated or because they love you or even because they hate and fear you.

They will only do it because they respect you.

Respect is why Americans remember you today – or not.

Respect is the only authority you have, guard it well.

Be proud of who you are and the uniform you wear.

You are more than a simple Soldier, a Sailor, a Marine, an Airman, or a Guardsman, you are the very symbol of this nation and its people – for good or for bad.

You are the first bulwark against the night. 

When you put on that uniform, you are the United States of America, you represent us all. Never forget that, not for one single moment.

Hold your head high, hold your honor dear, be always true to your oath. 

Stand steadfast by your duty even when there is no one to see.

Follow those who lead and lead those who will follow.

Leave no one behind.

Remember the fallen. Always.

Thank you for your service on this day and every other. Here’s to you, you magnificent bastards, one and all, here’s to us and all that we shared.

//Chief Warrant Officer Jim Wright, United States Navy (Retired).

47 comments:

  1. Thank you Jim. It is indeed well worth a moment or a day to reflect- and yes- as a veteran myself I remember every single day every person I served with alive or dead. I also raise a toast to our families- who sacrificed right along with us. Below is what I put on my Facebook today. Thank you for your service.
    " Dear fellow veterans- whether you are still alive and in uniform or out, or recovering in a hospital or home, or dealing with PTSD, or resting quietly at Arlington or in your hometown I salute you. No one except us knows the level of sacrifice required to serve our great nation. Our family also serves- our moves, our inability to communicate, our injuries deep within or the obvious external ones keep our families serving every day. I believe you all know how great this nation is. Because I know every one of your- no matter what your politics- has burst into applause as an aircraft returns home from a theater of war. Bless you all. "

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    1. Amen, Kimberly. Thank you for your service as one veteran to another and as a military brat as well, thank your family. We are a tribe apart from all other members of our society, with certain awareness of the costs to those who remain behind.

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  2. Well said Jim, to a fellow sailor I say happy Veterans Day!

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  3. Thanks Jim...great essay...It was 44 years ago today that I started the last week of my tour in Vietnam. Fourty four years...and yet sometimes it seems like just yesterday and other times like it was some ancient epic.
    Someday, when I pass over and give an accounting of my life to the Creator, I will stand there with pride and say "I was there for my comrades. I was there for my country. Nothing will ever take that away.
    Happy Veterans Day my Brother in Arms. "Long Remember".
    Frank Frey
    US Army Vietnam November 18, 1968 to November 19th, 1969

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  4. It has been both my Privilege, as well as my Horror, to command men and women in conflict.

    My Privilege because that's just about the greatest thing anyone can do - to lead and have people WANT to follow you. That's a very humbling feeling.

    My Horror because because some of those I led never came home, and it's because of me, my decisions, they never came home.

    Stuff like that you CAN NOT forget.

    So, to re-iterate Jim's words:

    "Remember the fallen. Always."


    But also: "Thank you for your service on this day and every other. Here’s to you, you magnificent bastards, one and all, here’s to us and all that we shared."

    I laid the wreath yesterday on behalf of the Allied Air Forces.

    Today I raise a small glass .


    'They shall grow not old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.'

    'When you go home, tell them of us and say; For your tomorrows, we gave our today.'

    D E Evans. Flight Lieutenant, RAF, Retd.

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    1. LT. Do not beat yourself up. Only the very lucky leaders get to bring all of their people home from bad places. If you honestly tried, worried and learned from the lessons presented to you then you were at the very least a good leader.
      I have seen good and bad leadership. Honesty with your people and yourself, leavened with humbleness seem to be things you have found. All good. No need for further self-flagellation. You probably did better than average, on this little information I would serve with you.
      AvH,SFC
      US Army CJSOTF, AFG

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    2. There is a wonderful quote from a fiction novel written by David Weber that addresses this. Although I don't believe Weber ever served, I think he put the idea better than anyone else ever has.

      "But you must have faith in yourself, Ladies and Gentlemen, because there will be no one else. You will be it. Your ship, your people, will live or die on the basis of your judgments and your decisions, and even if you get it all absolutely right, some of them will die anyway. Accept that now, because it will happen. The enemy wants to live as badly as you do, and like you, the way for her to do that is to kill the ones trying to kill her. Which will be you, Ladies and Gentlemen. You and the people under your command. And I can assure you that there will be nights your dead will haunt you. When you ask yourselves if you could have saved a few more lives if you'd only been faster, or smarter, or more alert. Sometimes the answer will be yes, that you could have saved them. But you didn't. You did your best, and you did your job, and so did they, but they're still dead, and whatever the rest of the universe thinks, you will go to your own grave convinced you ought to have done better, should have found the way to keep them alive. Worse, you'll think back to what happened, replay it in your head over and over, with the invaluable benefits of hindsight and all the time in the world to think about the decisions you had only minutes to make at the time, and you'll see exactly where you screwed up and let your people die. Accept that now. Accept it...or find another line of work."

      Rich Goranson
      SGT, US Army (1981-1990)

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    3. Thank You both for your kind words

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    4. Crap. Meant to add the closing section to it. I'm editing for context.

      "And I warn you all now, as my own Academy mentor warned me, that even if you think you understand exactly what I'm telling you, you'll discover in the event you weren't really prepared for the guilt. You can't be, not until it's your turn to shoulder it. But that will be the third thing that supports you in battle, Ladies and Gentlemen: the knowledge that your people will die uselessly if you screw up. It's not your job to keep them alive at all costs. It's your job to be certain they don't die for nothing. You owe them that, and they expect it of you, and that need to keep the faith with your people is what will keep your brain working and the orders coming even while the enemy blows your ship apart around you. And if you don't believe it will, then the bridge of a ship is not the proper place for you."

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  5. I have lived in Canada for 22 years. Remembrance Day is a day of sorrow, gratitude and remembrance. It isn't a day of patriotism or celebration of war. The poppy pin is worn on our lapels for weeks up until the day, the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month when we stand - usually in the rain - at the local memorial for a solemn ceremony. The poem the poppy is taken from, "In Flanders Fields," is somber. Everyone is acknowledging the tragedy of war and pledging once again to strive for a peaceful world. I still wear a poppy during the weeks leading up to Veteran's Day here in Massachusetts. My kids have worn them to school. Few people ask what the poppy is for - but it means a lot to me.

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  6. "there is no glory in war. It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it. " Indeed. My respect goes out to the men and woman who have been, are still, or gave their all while in uniform. For our freedom, we offer our deepest gratitude to all of you.

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  7. Thank you, Sir.

    We will remember them.

    N Roberts, Sergeant. REME (Retd)

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  8. " It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion..."

    "...let us strive on to finish the work we are in...to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."

    Take a little time today to send your representatives a message asking them to make sure we do just that. We can start by raising pay to the point that a grunt no longer qualifies for food stamps, or by seeing to it that the spouses of those who die in the line of duty continue receiving pay and benefits.

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  9. Your comments on leadership has particularly struck home. Thank you for articulating that so well.
    And I did repost that section...I hope that's ok.

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    1. er...have. Bad grammar police will now come and strike me down....

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  10. Truly, is there a better appellation for those who have served (and those who continue to serve) as magnificent bastards? I think not.

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  11. Happy Veterans Day, Bro.

    ~Long time reader, first-time commenter & Air Force Veteran.

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    1. I'm not sure "Happy Veterans' Day" is the right greeting. The day involves remembrance, reflection, some sorrow -- certainly a lot of gratitude and solemnity. I'm not a veteran myself, so I'm asking all you veterans out there: what would you like your neighbors, co-workers, and strangers on the street to say to you on Veterans' Day (other than a simple "thank you," which I think always works)?

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    2. So, the non-vet is questioning the vet on how a vet should properly address Veterans day? Please don't think I'm crapping on you, I just appreciate irony. As an ex-AF dweeb myself, I think happy seems appropriate enough from one vet to another, as they are both still amongst the living. It's certainly not unhappy, and doesn't negate the emotions we feel for those who did make the ultimate sacrifice.

      In any case, why do my kids get the day off of school, but I still have to drag myself to work? Grumble grumble bitch and moan...a magnificent bastard's work is apparently never done.

      But seriously, without my brothers and sisters in arms, I wouldn't have the blessings I have. A melancholy 'cheers' to you all. Past and present, living and dead.

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  12. As the father of a National Guardsman about to deploy as a convoy escort, thank you for this...I hope it inspires him as much as it gives me hope.

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  13. *Salute*
    Thank you, sir.

    Daniel Christensen
    OTA2, USN 1991-95

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  14. Slightly amusing story: It was this day (Armistice Day back then) in 1945 that my father was discharged from the Army. His overcoat had gone missing in China, and they could not discharge him - in New York in November - without an overcoat. So they gave him a new one. So I have, up in my attic, a brand-new 68-year-old woolen US Army overcoat as a souvenir of my Dad's stint in China in WWII.

    And right now, I raise a glass to all of you who have served.

    Remain unconquered.

    Bruce

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  15. Kinda funny.... whoever wrote BO's speech, didn't realize Section #60 was over 2 miles away.... when he said, " This past April, Sara was laid to rest here, in Section #60." ...when the speech was given in Section #2 of Arlington Cemetery. I bet-cha, the staffer who wrote the speech, built the Obama-Care website... :(

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    1. So, you just had to wipe your ass on my blog and use Veterans Day to take a poke at the Commander In Chief, did you?

      You understood absolutely nothing of what I wrote, nothing at all, did you? Some real class you've got there, Anonymous.

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    2. Jim,
      Thank you, thank you, thank you for highly moderating your blog. I've dropped many a blog because the "haters" have taken over and run off all of the others posters. It is refreshing to come here and read good stories with good comments!!

      As a mother of two who were in the military - I not only thank all you soldiers, sailors, marines, air force, for your service to this country but more personally, for having the back of my two children while they were overseas.

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    3. "Here" as in "Arlington Cemetery." Jeez.

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  16. Got me a free haircut at Great Clippers and a free dinner at Olive Garden... it was a good day... Buuuurp! God Bless ya swabby.... Keep floating us Marine's around and we will keep kick'in ass, while you play on your boat's. Ahoy sailor! (with a lisp) :p

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  17. Something I wrote on my FB page yesterday: I wasn't able to serve, although I wanted to (physical issues), but my brothers and many of my friends did. While I do want to sincerely thank all those, past and present, who have served in the armed forces, I want to send just as big a thank you to the families of those service members, who have served our country just as surely as their loved ones. Their sacrifices are what made it possible for their warriors to serve and thus to protect our country and our freedoms. So, thank you so very much for all you have done, and done without.

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  18. Thanks for this, Jim. We all feel it, but you know how to say it.

    -Paul Cooper, former QM3 (SS)

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  19. Thanks for this post Jim and especially for recognizing those who “came against their will”. As a reluctant Vietnam warrior I have trouble deciding what to think about my service. When a mission is seriously flawed (as history has confirmed) those who are called to implement it are placed in an extraordinarily difficult situation. I believe that the majority of Vietnam vets were in this position. We are the ones who don’t join the VFW, don’t walk around with veterans’ caps and bumper stickers, and are hesitant to stand when there is a call to honor veterans at some public event. Vietnam is not unique in this way but it occupies a special place since it was our last full-on draftee conflict.
    Now I will go out on a limb and start slowly sawing it off behind me. I also honor those who found a principled way to refuse service when they believed that a mission was so flawed that they could not honorably serve. I include in this category those who went to jail because of their refusal to serve and those whose faith compelled them to become conscientious objectors and to engage in some alternative service. I am not a fan of those who feigned physical or mental disability or who simply fled.
    But whatever choice we made I hope that we can find peace with our decisions and their consequences. I especially extend this wish to fellow veterans who have never fully recovered from the physical and emotional scars of war. Peace to all of you.

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    1. Walt,
      Take part in this day as you shall. You have earned the right to do so. This is true no matter how reluctantly you may have served. You did your time. You were in harms way or you were available to be in harms way.
      I agree with you about those who honorably did not serve, those who took a stand and paid a price like jail.
      I joined without compulsion, you are my brother for having worn the uniform, not how you got the uniform.
      AvH, SFC
      OIF 2, AFG current

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    2. Walt,

      As the SFC said, you've earned the right to take part, or not, as you will. I'd also add this: you don't acknowledge Veterans Day for yourself, but for your brothers and sisters in arms. As a citizen. Your own status is your business and yours alone.

      As to those who choose not to serve, willingly or otherwise, my opinion is in the third and final installment of the America series: America: Land That I Love.

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    3. With respect to both the current post and "America: Land That I Love,"
      Bravo Zulu, Warrant

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  20. Thanks Jim. You do a good job of telling the meaning of Veterans' Day in its entirety, with all its complicated parts. I am thankful for you and for your words, and for all the Veterans out there.

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  21. My father served in the special forces in Korea. A brother and a sister-in-law served in the Navy. I have the utmost respect for those who have served, voluntarily or not (hat tip to the Native Alaskan Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans I call friends).

    However, I do have a HUGE problem with those who make lip service to Veterans and the Military. They wave flags, wear flag pins, put on the bumper stickers and shout patriotic slogans and songs. But they have absolutely no clue what military service is, how it effects your life and those around you forever. Most of these people never served, or would never willing serve. And they sure don't seem to be worried about taking care of our service people after they have returned home.

    Like the knee jerk "Merry Christmas" spoken by the clerk behind the counter, I get the same awkward, distasteful feeling when I hear the words "Thank you for your service" given by rote to the service member they have just come across. Many times I feel like saying instead "I'm sorry for the sacrifices that you have had to make on our, and our Country's, behalf. I will do everything in my power to ensure that you receive the respect and benefits that are your just due for your service"

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  22. We Vets here in Minnesota appreciate your fine writing and your sincere sentiments.

    Thanks

    Ken Larson

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  23. I usually just sit around on Veteran's Day Weekend watching some of the great old movies that they are playing on TV, but this year I am proud to say I am helping out a friend, an old USMC veteran who has been writing his memoirs of his days in the service. It's a project that he has wanted to do for a long time in order that his children,grandchildren, and even their children will have something from him other than a few old, grainy pictures like the ones that were left for him by his dad. All he knows about his own father's experiences are trapped somewhere in those few pictures he has left and he wanted to leave more than that for his future generations.

    I think it's a great idea that all veterans might think about doing for their own families. You don't need to be a great writer, just tell it as you remember things and you will find that "your own true voice" will make it a treasured remembrance for them.

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  24. Mr Wright, you have become my oasis of reason and good writing in the dessert of radical conservatism, libertarianism. On a daily basis I am forced to listen to "frothy fanaticism" all under the guise of religion and patriotic duty. In my humble opinion, Mr. Karl Rove ruined the meaning of patriotism and now it's just another code for them vs us. I am privileged to be the wife, the sister, the daughter, the granddaughter, the niece and the cousin of men who served their country and believed in duty, honor, courage. Growing up I thought that everybody was like that. Kathleen Harris-Fiorito

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  25. Thank you Jim and Semper Fi to all my fellow veterans. (Even you Air Force guys.) And to the folks who have not served, you have my respect and devotion as well. We are all Americans no matter the trajectory our lives take. Whether we are at the pointy end of combat or the watches of the night, our duty and purpose of action distills down to service to country, home and family.

    I recommend everyone stake out an hour and watch "War Letters" from the PBS.org American Experience series. These correspondence between soldiers and family reveal the range of military experience, from the regularity of day-to-day soldiering to the laconic acceptance or rigid fear of combat and separation from home. And what the soldiers and sailors on the front truly think about the circumstances and reasons for war. Regards - Tommy D

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  26. Thank you.

    ..and thanks for the link-back to your "America" set
    --I just recently started reading your blog--Obviously I have a lot of catching up to do!

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  27. Just finished Andrew Bacevich's "Breach of Trust" -- wonderful argument for a return to reason from the all-volunteer military.

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  28. "I’m not a particularly reflective kind of guy."

    We can fix that! http://amzn.to/I5ubBu

    Seriously, though..Good post. I think my husband has a hard time accepting thanks for his 20+ years of service because it often comes across as hero worship. He'd be happy if the Right would just stop trying to water down his pension and benefits and demand that the Federal government stick by the agreements they made when he retired.

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  29. Thanks for the comments. I thought I was the only one who thought of all the veterans every day. I was in during Viet Nam, and although my orders were changed from Saigon to northern Virginia most of my classmates from Ft Benning went over. When things started getting messy in the Middle East, I recalled the at home treatment of service members in that anti-military time. Although the attitudes are different, the sacrifices of the service members are the same. I started to wear my dog tags again to remind me every morning there are soldiers, sailors, and airmen ( of both sexes) putting their lives on line so that I may enjoy the safety and liberties of being a US citizen. My life was never on the line, but I still feel bonded to all our service members, past and present. Thanks again for putting into eloquent words my feelings.

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