We here must speak of heroes

Memorial Day serves as a holiday for backyard grilling, first taste of summertime activities and having fun.  The actual “memorial” part of it is remembered by a few canned patriotic speeches delivered by political leaders and a flurry of social media graphics thanking those who served.  Today, President Obama, in a shallow, face-saving measure to deflect from the VA scandal fall-out, made a surprise trip to Afghanistan to visit US troops, the political motives glaringly obvious.  In the scheme of American holidays, Memorial Day fades from our memories quickly, unremembered and afar, most don’t even spare a thought for the sacrifices made to secure their liberty.  Do people even think about “liberty”?

Kinnison, in part,  commented yesterday:

“Someone once said, “America is better-served by its armed forces than it deserves.” Early in the War on Terror a wounded Marine in the very first “Wounded Warrior” barracks at Camp Lejeune, NC, wrote on the white board in the passageway, “America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war. America is at the mall…”” 

Sadly, this seems to be an accurate assessment, with fewer and fewer of our leaders having any military service or interest in learning about those who sacrificed so much.  In our culture of self-entitlement and fatuous idolization of shameless, self-promoting celebrities, it’s easy to lose hope for America’s future.  Let’s commit to remember our true American heroes as Minta beautifully states:

“A greater gratitude than we can here express.
Here fallen heroes lie.
The ones we’ve come to honor,
And celebrate their lives.
They were the ones who paid –
In Lincoln’s words –
“The last full measure of devotion.””

JK offered a comment yesterday with just a link, no explanation.  This link transports you to Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 400,000 of our country’s military heroes.  One such hero at Arlington, General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, was the most famous American military leader of his generation and yet it’s doubtful more than a very few Americans would even recognize his name.

General Pershing was the most famous American general in World War I.  He took a decidedly haphazardly organized US Armed Forces and turned it into a 2 million strong integrated modern fighting force in World War I (further reading, “US Army in the World War 1917-1919, Organization of the American Expeditionary Force”).  His accomplishments fill many books written about his remarkable military achievements and he alone received the title “General of the Armies”, the highest rank in the US  Army while still alive.  General George Washington received that title posthumously.  Words like cold, reserved, stubborn appear frequently in descriptions of General Pershing, but beneath that stern mask was a man who sacrificed a great deal to serve his country; a man who cared deeply for his family, his soldiers, his country.

In 1915 while serving in the Army at Fort Bliss, Pershing’s wife and three daughters perished in a house fire at their home at the Presidio of San Francisco.  The 1948 NY Times obituary  account recounts:

“On Aug. 27, 1915, there came the great tragedy of Pershing’s life. The general was called to the telephone at headquarters.

“Telegram for you, sir,” said the telephone orderly.

“Yes?” responded the General.

“Shall I–shall I–read it to you, sir?” the orderly asked, haltingly.

“Yes,” said General Pershing.

Again the orderly hesitated.

“Go ahead,” said Pershing.

And then the orderly read him the message telling of the death of his wife and three daughters–all his family except his son Warren–in a fire at their quarters in the Presidio. Warren alone had been saved by a maid and was reported to be in serious condition in the Army hospital.

“Is that all–is that everything?” Pershing asked when the orderly had completed the message.

“Yes, sir,” said the orderly.

Pershing left his duties only long enough to see to the burial of his family, left his son Warren with his sister in Lincoln, Neb., and returned, his hair whitened and his face lined, to his post.”

General Pershing could have called it quits on the Army life at this point, because he had acquired a law degree in 1893 and had many other options.  He chose to continue serving our country in uniform.

While browsing through a book I purchased recently (War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars”, Andrew Carroll), a letter written by General Pershing during WWI to his 9-year-old son, living with an aunt in Nebraska,  offers a glimpse of the man behind that cold mask.  Luckily, the letter was located quickly online here. This excerpt speaks to that higher purpose that so easily gets drowned out by our pop culture:

“I want you to come so that you yourself can see something of the army and see something of France. I want you to know while you are still a boy something of the fine patriotism that inspires the American soldiers who are fighting over here for the cause of liberty. They are fighting as you know against Germany and her Allies to prevent the rulers of Germany from seizing territory that does not belong to them and from extending their rule over the people of other governments who do not wish to be ruled by Germany. I might add that in order to do this the German army, under orders from the Ruler of Germany, has committed most serious crimes, and for that also we are fighting in order to punish them.

I want you to see some of the battlefields of France with me, over which the American soldiers have fought in carrying out the great purpose of our people. It will enable you to realize later in life just what sacrifice means and just what degree of sacrifice our army is called upon to make and which they have made and are making bravely and courageously.”

He promised his young son a trip to France to see the battlefields and in words meant for his son only, General Pershing sums up the larger purpose, simple, poignant and meant to be private, a father trying to teach his son what we hold dear.   He kept his promise to his son and here are photos of young Warren Pershing with his father in France.

We should remember all those, who sacrificed so much for our liberty, not only on Memorial Day, but every day:

“We here must speak of things
That give us pause –
Our hesitation comes because some words
When spoken here
Tremble in the air
And voice immortal thoughts.
We here must speak of heroes,
Of loyalty, and love,
Of valor, fear controlled –
And, yes, of death –
That fearful price that those who’re named here paid.”

– Minta Marie Morze

9 Comments

Filed under American Character, American History, Culture Wars, General Interest, Military, Politics

9 responses to “We here must speak of heroes

  1. Kinnison

    GUARDIANS
    (A Poem for the Wall…)

    Bronze skin seems to sweat in the sun
    As the Three
    Frozen in our youth that was
    Stand in watchful guard
    Above the black roll call
    Of departed friends
    A statue
    A flag
    A roster in the earth
    A hundred lonely tokens
    Left by we who come
    To say our thanks
    At this hallowed wall of stone
    We raised it here for you
    Ourselves
    But paid for it so far away
    We honor you
    Our brothers
    Who served and bled
    Our cost was living on
    And the throbbing pain of loss
    The living died
    The dying live
    In a nation blinded
    To your sacrifice
    Since it would not count the cost
    The Three stand weary
    Proud
    Above your names
    Our comrades gone
    Rest ye well
    And when the bugle
    Echoes sunset
    We remember….
    —“Plato One-Zero”, USMC
    Hatchet Team 6, MACVSOG

    • Stop it JK, it hurts to laugh:-) Btw, thanks for that Arlington Cemetery link – very beautifully put together with the sound effects.

      • JK

        Sorry about that LB, I forgot.

        I’ve got a pps in an inbox somewhere from “our” Aussie friend Andra … I’ll seek for it. Don’t know I can embed it though I’ll do my best. Features the somber so very well kept places in certain of Europe’s spaces where, perhaps surprisingly – “our” (but I’m of the general opinion “those of a certain age Europeans” might dispute, of a general nature, those resting in those places are solely ours) fellow citizens of the US who are among those whom we memorialize this day.

        I suppose my “explaining” just why I thought to add that link is likely unnecessary – with the possible exception of you Minta. No offense intended. (Tho’ LB might righteously contest my assertion given her rib.) This is a far better explanation than I could possibly tender:

        http://warontherocks.com/2014/05/how-we-commemorate-memorial-day/

  2. Minta Marie Morze

    Liberty, thank you for using parts of my poem—I’m proud to be part of your great post. You have put together important thoughts here. To juxtapose our present leadership with our military men of depth who served our beloved country with personal courage, strength of purpose, and an undying loyalty to our values, underscores what we have lost and are losing.

    Pershing receiving the news from home—a telling moment.

    The Pershing letter is evocative of something essential to our being here in America—our military fights to free people, and to go after those who commit atrocities. The words “America has sent” or “The Yanks are here” are liberating phrases, whether it’s D-Day or a humanitarian relief effort.

    We need to re-establish the leadership bond between those who show up when things are desperate and those who send them.

    A reawakening of the American Ethos.

    • I agree with you completely on the desperate need for a reawakening of the American Ethos.

      This isn’t meant to be a partisan slam with this illustration, because both parties have more than their fair share of sleazes and dishonorable members (although the Dems never censor theirs in any way, and lie to cover-up the dirty deeds).

      Just this morning I saw Senator Blumenthal hit the airwaves to urge the Justice Department to investigate the VA scandal. Why people overlooked his blatant lying about serving in Vietnam and voted for him baffles me. That he would be the face of the Dems to talk about anything having to do with veterans is beyond insulting – it’s totally disgusting!

      This is how far we’ve strayed as a nation, where lies don’t matter, being an honorable person doesn’t matter and patriotism gets cast as making you a potential “homegrown terrorist” by some in Washington. Not sure how we get back on the right path, where our values define who we are and how we live our lives, but daring to challenge the status quo in Washington and the pop culture gatekeepers seems imperative.

  3. Kinnison

    “Duty, honor, country.” Honor always matters. Our military services are filled largely by “Service juniors”, men and women who have followed their fathers, their grandfathers and even their great-grandfathers into uniform in a family tradition. Life within the military services is different from civilian life, filled with very hard work, unforgivingly high standards, constant separations of families, and moving every 2-4 years from one military enclave to another, usually far from home and sometimes in foreign countries. It is an extended small town, and people who make it a career keep running into the same people at one post, base, station or another. There are some pundits who worry that the military is getting too separated from the general population, and that concern is well-founded. The majority of our troops, enlisted and officer, are in better physical shape, are morally stronger, and they have an ethos, a code that they are loyal to even unto death. My family has produced 5 Sergeants of Marines over 3 generations. Two of us earned commissions and made the military a career. My wife’s family is similar. Her Father was a Naval officer in WWII. Her sister married a career Army officer. They had two sons and a daughter. One son is a West Point graduate, a full colonel with 26 years in, his brother, an Air Force officer and pilot, just retired as a lieutenant colonel after 22 years of service, his last assignment a combat tour in Afghanistan. His two sons are currently serving, one an Army officer and one in the Air Force, and his daughter married an Air Force pilot. The Line goes on… The danger is Praetorianism. Our military, without the Draft to leaven the dough, is filled with people serving in the Services who were raised in the Services. They hold themselves to a higher standard than the general civilian population, and they know—because it is an observable fact—that they are better, faster, more physically and morally fit than civilians are. Most of the career military is very conservative in their politics. They are a bit upset that, election after election, “mishaps” occur and the absentee ballots to troops deployed overseas either never get sent, get sent too late to be returned and counted, or are simply “lost”. (In 2010 the aircraft returning the completed ballots to the ‘States from Afghanistan to be submitted and counted “crashed” somewhere in Southwest Asia…) There is a strong feeling in the active military that this Administration is deliberately destroying the U.S. military. In the 6 years since President Obama took office more than 900 general officers have been retired…some might say “purged”. Currently, there is a force reduction in all Services, mainly affecting combat units. Hundreds of thousands of troops who might otherwise have made the military a career are being forced out into an economy with no jobs. The rot has proceeded so far that for a number of years now there has been an “outlaw” organization outside of, but started by, people in the military services called “Oath Keepers”, who vow not to follow what they know to be any illegal and unconstitutional orders from higher command. Will we reach the point that George Washington tried to stop when he formed the “Society of Cincinnatus” from his Revolutionary War officers, having them swear not to attempt to overthrow the constitutional government even though that government had treated their men, the veterans of that War, terribly and broken its promises to them? Only time will tell, but Benghazi and the VA scandal do not bode well…

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