Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you—who knew that at one time your job was to fight well—kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?….
Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.
No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.
You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst….
You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield….
Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them—there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.
This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell….
We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.
For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned—take our post-traumatic growth—and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.
We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism….
Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth—that of the U.S. military—and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels….
I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.