Monthly Archives: November 2011
It is Thanksgiving week and as I reflect upon my own life, there is much to be thankful for. I can assure you that my Thanksgiving Day was terrific amid the cacophony of joyous laughter and games, great food in abundance all enveloped in family. That would have been reason enough to be thankful but I had one more. Earlier this week, my son, John, was honored at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor.
For the unfamiliar, somewhere around 2% of all Boy Scouts attain the rank of Eagle. Combine that with the number of boys who never become Scouts and the figure grows even more impressive. But it is not about the odds of achieving the rank that counts. It is all about earning it in the first place and what you do with the rank once attained. It is about how the boy becomes a man and begins to wear the responsibilities associated with this very significant achievement. Much is expected of them, not only by society, but by themselves. And this is what makes the honor so special.
The Eagle Ceremony itself is a celebration: serious but not somber. It is comprised of several time honored traditions. One is the reading of the Eagle Charge delivered directly from an older Eagle Scout to the newest. I was honored to have been asked by my son to give him his charge. I wish to read portions of it to you. The charge blended some of the traditional passages, whose origins are unknown and not attributable, with some of my own.
I have had the honor of giving the Eagle Scout Charge to several Scouts over the past few years. It is a task not to be taken lightly. To charge is to place upon you a burden, an obligation.
What teenager can fully appreciate the significance of Scouting, the firm foundation that it offers to boys and how it will affect them later in life? What teenager has the perspective to recognize the influence that they have upon others until they have put some miles behind them? You will come to appreciate the awesome responsibilities that now fall upon your shoulders only with the passage of time. This charge is a burden from which you cannot shrink.
It is my distinct privilege to give you the Eagle Scout Charge as your former Den Leader, former Scoutmaster and as your ever-present father on the occasion of your elevation to the highest rank in Scouting. I do so as one who has worn the Eagle badge for 42 years.
John, you have already past your 18th birthday and have taken another oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” You wear yet another uniform and are now in service to your nation. So perhaps this Eagle Charge will resonate a bit more than these same words might have a mere 5 months ago. You may not have recognized it but the significance of duty, honor and country was instilled upon you when you first recited the Cub Scout Promise more than 10 years ago:
“To do my duty to God and my country,
To help other people, and
To obey the Law of the Pack.”
The foremost responsibility of an Eagle Scout is to live with honor. Honor is the foundation of all character and character is not only what we say and do but what we fail to do and say. An Eagle Scout lives honorably, not only because honor is important to him but because of the vital significance of the example he sets for other Scouts. Always live with honor.
The second obligation of an Eagle Scout is loyalty. His loyalty to his colleagues makes him pitch in and carry his share of the load. All of these help to build the loyalty which means devotion to community, to country, to one’s own ideals, and to God. Always inspire loyalty.
The third obligation of the Eagle Scout is to be courageous. Courage has always been a quality by which men measure themselves and others. To a Scout, bravery means not only the courage to face physical danger, but the determination to stand up for what is right. Trusting in God, with faith in his fellowman, he looks forward to each day, seeking his share of the world’s work to do. Be of good courage.
The fourth obligation of an Eagle Scout is to be cheerful. Times will surely get tough but a good sense of humor will get you out of more trouble than it gets you into. Always wear a smile. It becomes you.
The final responsibility of an Eagle Scout is service. The performance of the daily Good Turn takes on a new meaning now as an adult. Continue your service to others. Aid and comfort the unfortunate and those who cannot speak up for themselves. Uphold the rights of others while defending your own. “Be Prepared” to put forth your best.
You deserve much credit for having achieved Scouting’s highest award. Always recognize that you did not achieve this on your own. Don’t worry about paying back; pay forward. There are many for whom you will become a role model. Be proud but wear your award with humility.
Yes, you can live your life with honor. You can live your life loyal to ideals and to people. You can live your live with courage for your own actions and for those whose voices are weak. You can live your life with cheerfulness and see the glass as half full. You can live your life with service in your heart and in your mind. Honor. Loyalty. Courage. Cheerfulness. Service. These are your ingredients for a lifetime of success. It is up to you to shake them together in good measure for the betterment of your community.
May the Scout Oath and the Scout Law be your guide. If you do nothing else but live your life in accordance with these principles and encourage others to follow your example, the world will be a better place and you will have fulfilled the charge of the Eagle Scout.
Godspeed, John Wesley.
With almost 40 years of travel experience under my belt I have become something of a subject matter expert in the field. Name the mode and I have experience in it. By sea, by rail, by motor coach and automobile, I’ve done it. And in each class of service, too. Two years ago I received my updated frequent flyer card from American Airlines. It designates me as a million-miler. Now I get to check my bags for free.
There once was a certain romance about travel. I started my career on ocean going ships that plied the seven seas. The British coined the term posh in the days of the Raj to describe first class travel to India before the days of air conditioning. Port Outbound, Starboard Home accommodations would keep you on the shady side of the ship during the long hot voyage. My wife’s grandfather was a frequent flyer back in the 1940’s. Allegheny Airlines even featured him in a print ad. Then there is travel by rail. People would spend days and nights traveling by train. Arlo Guthrie’s depiction of rail travel was an endless card game punctuated with cigarettes in the parlor car.
When I wrote this, I was sitting in South Station waiting for my son to arrive by bus. Hollywood was never very kind to busses. They were depicted as dank and cold on the inside, stopping along some dusty road deep in the south to pick up a drifter, bus travel was the domain of common folk. It still is. Today’s busses are comfortable and feature movies, the internet and power outlets in every seat. And by common I mean ordinary people: those who have places to go and people to see without crazy amounts of money to spend on planes or time to waste in an airport with the ramp delays and weather.
As I looked around the terminal I saw a reflection of America that appealed to me. There were a thousand people with a thousand different stories. I saw their industry in quickened steps; I saw determination on their faces. They were of many races and colors and backgrounds yet they shared the common purpose of moving onward towards their next endeavor.
Bus terminals are not the domain of the elite but they ought to be. When those of the corporate jet set are without their planes, they are unlikely to be on the Megabus from New York but they should try it now and again. We can learn a lot from the denizens who partake of this most egalitarian of transit modes. In fact, we can all take a lesson from those ordinary people with extraordinary talents who make our world run. They make courageous calls every day on how to make ends meet and how to balance the demands of raising a family under expectations that continue to diminish.
Our elected officials ought to join us in the bus terminal, as well. Limousines and NetJets are no way to commune with the common man. You won’t find the ordinary man at Occupy Wall Street, either. When our elected officials hob-nob with the elite to exchange access for money on one end, then pause for the photo op at Dewey Square at the other end, one thing is clear: there is no ordinary man in sight.
The ordinary people of our country are caught in a vice. The political elite are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while our ship of state founders. These elite are fat, dumb and happy engaging in turf wars while our futures are at stake. The ultimate example of abrogation of responsibility is the Super Committee in Congress who is charged with making unpleasant decisions that neither chamber of Congress would make last summer when raising the debt ceiling became a crisis. In Washington, a crisis postponed is as good as a crisis solved. With their backs against the wall the big question is whether they can come to a courageous compromise just like ordinary people do every day. The problem is that they have not yet demonstrated that they have the courage that ordinary people display every day to solve that problem. Funny thing is the last word they would use to describe themselves is ordinary.
In that I concur. Maybe they need to take a Greyhound.
These days my son is in uniform. He is a bright and fresh Midshipman at the US Merchant Marine Academy who frequently finds himself walking the streets of Manhattan in that uniform. He and most of his friends are amazed at the attention that a uniform brings in these times. When I wore that same uniform on those same streets almost 40 years ago, I joked that I never needed money in my pocket if I found myself in a bar. If it was an old man’s bar, the aging veterans from World War II would usually buy me a drink. If it was a young person’s bar, I wouldn’t get served. In any case, I didn’t need any money.
It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see that the populace generally recognizes and appreciates the service of America’s veterans. One need only watch a sporting event these days to see the military color guard, the vocalist in uniform or the live feed from some forward base in Afghanistan to gain a perspective on how much public opinion has changed in America.
As a veteran myself, I must confess that I am sometimes uncomfortable with the attention it can bring. It seems as though all veterans are depicted as heroes. Who’s to say? I feel much more comfortable in my service being characterized as simply patriotic. Not everyone can be a hero. Circumstances dictate that. But everyone can be patriotic, even if you are not a veteran. I wish our number of patriots would exceed our numbers of veterans by a factor of ten to one. Then we would have something.
If there is a sense of unanimity with how our citizens express their feelings about our veterans, I sense a disconnection with how our government acts towards them. It came to me as I went shopping for items to support our troops in Afghanistan. I had a list that contained a number of interesting items. Beyond the obvious sinful joys of spices for humdrum MREs and packages of beef jerky were some items that I found a bit bizarre. There are urgent requests for items such as socks and foot powder; soap and toilet paper; feminine hygiene products and underwear.
Now, we’ve seen the newsreels of the main operating bases in the Near East. They contain many comforts of home, including Burger Kings and TGI Fridays. Please don’t get me wrong: I do not wish to deny our troops of any comfort they can get. I simply cannot understand how a logistical chain that can deliver two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onion-on-a-sesame-seed-bun to Kandahar can’t get foot powder, socks and underwear to a forward operating base. These are not creature comforts; they are the essentials of keeping a fighting force ready to engage.
Our Defense budget exceeds $600 billion dollars. We can procure stealth fighters, smart bombs and munitions and put them on target. Why must we rely upon warm hearted Americans to conduct drives to fill boxes of necessities for our troops stationed on the pointy edge of the spear in regions and under conditions too harsh for us to imagine even in a bad dream? Are our government priorities so upside down that we cannot fulfill a basic promise to our troops to provide the best equipment possible to succeed in taking the fight to the enemy? I, for one, will keep on shopping. I only wish that I could revert to Slim Jims and Trail Mix.
While we are on the subject of honoring our veterans, the government has failed again to honor our warriors from cradle to grave. This week, additional revelations of mishandling of our soldiers remains through Dover Air Force Base have emerged. Body parts have been disposed of at landfills. Several months ago came revelations at Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s most sacred of burial grounds, that graves were mismarked. According to the Washington news reports, “Army investigators found hundreds of mix-ups, including wrongly marked or empty graves, one with eight sets of cremated remains, and some remains which could not be identified.” And let us not forget the scandals at Building 18, the rat and insect infested facility at Walter Reed Army Hospital that was uncovered in media investigations in 2007.
This pattern of behavior belies the stated commitment that our nation has made to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Our country makes a solemn obligation to its warriors. The words of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address are poignant:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Not everyone in uniform will become a hero. Circumstances will dictate that. But simply wearing a uniform transforms every individual into a patriot. And patriots deserve to be treated with all of the respect that a grateful nation can bestow. I have never been comfortable with the term Happy Veterans Day. I always thought that a simple thank you was more than sufficient. Thank you.