14 May 2007

Duty, Honor, Country

On May 12, 1962, General Douglas MacArthur delivered his farewell speech to the cadets of West Point. In this speech, he repeatedly chants the phrase, "Duty, Honor, Country." General MacArthur says "those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn."

This speech has always struck a chord with me. It does poetic justice to a belief in a code of conduct and chivalry that I carry inside me. And I am certainly not the first nor the last person to put faith in these words. I spent this afternoon touring around Arlington National Cemetery. In this place, there were thousands of others who lived their lives reciting "duty, honor, country."

To say that it was a humbling experience is an understatement. Some of America's greatest soldiers and statesmen rest here. There are notable sights like JFK's eternal flame, the grave of Audie Murphy, the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier taking those 21 steps, pausing 21 seconds, turning and repeating it over and over 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Yet, the most powerful image to me was this. A simple white, government-issued headstone marking the final resting place of Private First Class Thomas Edwin Bresnahan. PFC Bresnahan was, as far as I can tell, a simple man who lived by a simple code - "Duty, Honor, Country." He was one of the many faceless soldiers that General MacArthur described in his speech.

"From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light."

It is for PFC Bresnahan and the many thousands of others like him that I do what I do. Their sacrifice demands it. Their cause is the same cause today and tomorrow - Duty, Honor, Country. Edmund Burke said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." These men realized that the good men started with them. American history is non-fiction. The characters are not characters at all. Rather, they are the most uncommon of common men.

General MacArthur ended his speech with an admonishment to the cadets. While his remarks were tailored specifically for the members of the "long gray line", they could just as easily be applied to any of us in the profession of arms.

"You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the Nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds.
The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country."

And so it is to the memory of these brave men and women - Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen - and the ideals that they helped preserve to this day that I have pledged my service. To ensure that evil does not triumph. To allow my children to continue to live in the America that is "the last best hope" of the world. To carry on the ideals of Duty, Honor, Country.


AmyWhit said...

I'm speechless, Jeff. Beautiful--the words and the images. The third image is very powerful with the composition and the lighting. It has a gorgeous dreamy effect that goes very well with your written word. I am so glad that you joined us in our little blogging circle. I'm also thankful for your sense of "Duty, Honor and Country". Take care of yourself over there! We'll be thinking about you and praying for your safe return!

Love ya, Amy

Judy said...

My heart is full, I'm very proud of you, and for once I do not know what to say. So I'll just thank God for you (and Shane), and all those who have heard the call to "Duty, Honor, and Country".

Your dad said to tell you "this is good writin'" (he did actually read it, like me, with tears in his eyes).

Love you, Mom& Dad

jamie said...

Arlington is such a solemn and wonderful place to be. I remember going there as a child with JoJo and just wondering how and why all these people died for us. Then, on Sept.11, one of our neighbors died in the attacks at the Pentagon. It was there at Arlington that he was laid to rest facing the Pentagon office where he once worked. While Shane did his duty to make sure that this soldier's funeral was "to his standard", watching the whole service of the folding of the flad and the playing of the bugle off in the distance and the 21 gun salute, it was then that I truly grasped the awesomeness of this place. And how ordinary people fought and died to defend MY freedom. We constantly live Duty, Honor and Country in our house, as you know.

And this week, one more of our good friends will be laid to rest among the heros that are there. I will tell you that all of the men and women that hold Duty, Honor and Country dear to their hearts wouldn't have it any other way!!!

I love the pic with the light shining in the corner.

Shelia said...

Nothing I say will do this justice, it's perfect and I'm very proud of you LT. Be safe.

Heather said...

I'm very proud of you. You need to be a writer. You have such a talent for telling through words.

I miss you. Come home soon.
I love you.

oldav8rswife said...

Lt, I realize thet MacArther is one of the most famous of our military men and had a way with words, but I tell you this, your words on the blog make a person feel it personally. I am awed by your writing. It is from the heart and conveys a very clear discription of a military mans view. May God continue to bless and protect you. With much respect, Jan