I’m not a particularly reflective kind of person.
I’m the kind of guy more interested in tomorrow than yesterday and 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.
We are not heroes, most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. And that’s okay.
In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.
We should respect the warrior, those who are worthy of that respect, but we should never worship them. 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.
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 long watch, those of you who walked point into hell, 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.
Your honor does not depend on the honor of others. Your self-respect does not depend on the worthiness of others. You have sworn an oath, you word is good or it is not – there is no middle ground, there are no half measures, either you keep your word, all of it, not just the easy parts, all of it, or you don’t.
Honor, duty, respect, these things are the only authority you have, guard them well.
You are the first bulwark against the night.
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.
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 and your back straight, be proud of who you are and what you represent, 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.
And 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).