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.