"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Remembering the end . . . and the beginning

Well, it's been just over a week since I got back home, and thankfully I've been able to spend much more time away from work than at it. I spent the first weekend back trying to shoulder some of the load around the house that Bree's been carrying for the last six months (while, according to all pre-return advice, NOT trying to undo the routine she'd established) and reacquainting myself with my son. We were warned before coming back that young children don't always remember their deployed parents right away, and for most of the first day that seemed to be the case: Aaron shied away when I tried to pick him up or approach him, but then I busted out the tickle monster and that reminded him who I was. So now my biggest challenge is keeping up with him: in the last six months, he's turned into a little red-headed firecracker with boundless energy, who can sprint across the house and halfway up the stairs before I realize he's even left the room.

This Memorial Day weekend, I caught up with the rest of my immediate family so that we could celebrate a very special and happy occasion. What, you may ask, could be so happy on Memorial Day, when we honor all those warriors who never got to come home and celebrate special occasions with their families? Well, I think this particular event was the best tribute we could pay to our fallen; it was the promise of a new generation to pick up the torch that the departed had held high and carry on in their footsteps. For on Friday, my youngest brother completed twelve weeks of Navy OCS training and was commissioned as an Ensign into the United States naval service. He joins myself and our cousin - an officer on a ballistic missile submarine - as part of the third generation of our extended family to wear our country's uniform.

Of course, I have and always will bust his balls about signing up with the Marine Corps' geeky, awkward little brother. But I have to admit, their training was no joke (mostly because it was provided by Marine Corps drill instructors), and by the time it was over, my brother had lost a great amount of weight and gained an almost unbearable amount of confidence and cockiness. The commissioning ceremony humbled us all, however, by recalling the significance of the weekend and reminding us that the men and women who wear the uniform of the Navy don't always get to come home to the country they love. The commanding officer of OCS told the story of LT Michael Murphy, the latest recipient of the Medal of Honor, who fatally exposed himself to enemy fire in Afghanistan in order to radio in a call for help which ultimately saved the life of his SEAL team's sole survivor. It was sobering, on that sunny parade field, to think that there might be another Michael Murphy out there, in his dress whites, who one day might be forced to die that his family, friends, and country might live. But it was equally heartening to see that, despite that knowledge, the forty-four graduates had nevertheless chosen to enter the program, endure twelve weeks of punishment, and persevere to graduate and join their comrades already on the front lines. And, making up the rest of the formation, was a platoon of officer candidates in their eighth week of training; and behind them, candidates in their sixth. And I knew that, somewhere in the confines of OCS's buildings, were candidates just starting their journey. There will be others behind them because somehow, in the midst of an unpopular war and a culture that grows ever more poisonous to the very notion of service, America still manages to generate citizens who believe that our great experiment is worth defending from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

So, this weekend, we mourn and honor men like Michael Murphy and Jason Dunham, who gave this country all they had; and we celebrate men and women like my brother and his classmates, who understand that sometimes it takes all you have to keep a great people and a great nation safe. And, seeing my brother with the single ensign stripe on his shoulder-board, I took what I hope was a not excessive amount of pride in the service my various family members have given to the United States. My grandfather and great-uncles sailed the Pacific and stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II; my uncle patrolled the jungles of Vietnam; my cousin safeguards our nation's deterrent strategy in the murky depths of the oceans, and I just did my time in the deserts of Iraq. What will my brother - designated to be a naval flight officer by trade - accomplish during his time of service? It's far too soon to tell; but I know that whatever he does, he will do it well, and make his family, and country, proud.

1 comment:

CJHC said...

The MN branch of the family welcomes you....
Glad you're back--call us.