Monthly Archives: May 2012
When soldiers fight, soldiers die. It is the unfortunate calculus of conflict. Evidence of that most extreme sacrifice is etched in the granite and marble of so many monuments in town squares and cemeteries in America.
Why do soldiers fight? A frequent response is, “to preserve our freedoms.” I think the answer lies within the document that is the foundation of our democracy. I believe
that answer is embodied within the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.
To form a more perfect union. To secure the blessings of liberty not only for ourselves but for our posterity. We, in this audience today, are the posterity for whom our forefathers fought. The WWII veterans from Milford VFW Post 1544, fought for the posterity of my generation as their fathers fought for theirs. My generation has fought for the posterity of the next. And we send our sons and daughters into service so that they might fight for the posterity of the babies in this audience today and for the generations of Americans yet to be born. It is the way of America.
My son, John, stands beside me today in the uniform of his country, still in training and willing to follow in the footsteps of generations of family before him. I have served; my brother has served; my father has served. John will serve. This unbroken line of succession in service to country is a luxury.
Three of my mothers’ brothers served in WWII. Uncle Ben was a crew chief and ordnance man in the Army Air Corps. He returned from England with his new bride Margaret. I remember his witty sense of humor and Aunt Margaret’s British accent. They eventually settled in California where my cousins remain today.
The story of the other two brothers ended differently. I never got the chance to meet them but I have read their names etched in marble in American cemeteries in faraway lands.
The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Manila contains the name “Gunners Mate Third Class Anthony J. Lajkowicz, US Navy.” Uncle Tony was Lost at Sea after his cruiser USS Vincennes was ultimately torpedoed and sunk off Guadalcanal in the dark, fiery morning of August 10, 1943. The battles were fierce and the losses heavy. That area was to become known as Ironbottom Sound.
The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Margraten reads “Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Lajkowicz, US Army Air Corps.” Uncle Joe went Missing in Action after his B-24 Liberator was shot down while on a bombing mission over Poland on December 26, 1944. No one saw a parachute. No one found a body.
They left no spouse; they left no children. No aunt to pass on the stories; no cousins for me to play with in the backyard; no great grandchildren for my mother to bounce on her knee. We are left with etchings on a wall.
Recent events found my family at a happy occasion reunion. We got a chance to take a photo portrait that covered four generations starting with my mother. I will cherish that portrait forever but I can almost see the silhouettes of my missing uncles and the children that never came. This is the continuing cost of their sacrifice long ago.
President Herbert Hoover addressed the Republican Convention in June 1944. It was just a few short weeks after the allied invasion of Normandy that would eventually spell the end of war in Europe. He said, “Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.” The second part of the quotation is not as often heard. He went on to say, “And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.”
Building a more perfect union always takes courage. For civilians it sometimes involves great risk to their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. In the case of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines placed in harm’s way, it too often asks a far greater cost. And when their life is taken too soon, ours is forever affected, as well.
Today we honor the memory of those who gave their lives for no other reason than their nation called. The nation asked them to do their best to preserve the Union, to make a more perfect Union. To paraphrase a well known expression: All who served gave some. And some who served gave all.”
And so do us, survivors of the aftermath of war.
May they rest in eternal peace.
Spring is that time of year for transitions and my experience this weekend is turning out to be a very reflective one.
First stop is Newport, Rhode Island, for the commissioning ceremony for the son of a dear Navy shipmate of mine. Our children grew up together and we have watched yet another major life transition unfold before our eyes as he graduated from his Officer course and proceeded to his duty station in San Diego as a physician. The scene was a bit reminiscent of the movie, “Officer and a Gentleman” except this course was designed for the specialized corps of officers, in this case, the Medical Corps. They were Golf Company of Officer Development Course Class 12060. Ho-Hah!
We attended the festivities in uniform, probably feeling a bit more dapper than we actually looked when compared to the fresh, young faces of the 64 men and women who took their orders to begin or continue a naval career. It was a true passing of the torch. My shipmate, Donald, retired as a Navy Captain a number of years ago. Together, we could no longer complete the obstacle course without counting upon the Medical Corps to revive us.
This most important function, the defense of our country, has been transferred to yet another generation of Americans who willingly raised their collective hands to affirm the oath they made to uphold a commitment not to a personage, such as a king, but to a concept drafted by men who had experienced the yoke of servitude to potentates. They swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” They also swore that they took this oath “freely without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”
If you do the math and add up all the members of our Armed Forces, active duty and reserve and National Guard, you will find that they represent less than 1% of Americans. I submit to you that the rest of America is the 99%. The Occupy movement is measuring the wrong thing. The Occupiers are measuring wealth as an indicator of achievement and success that they submit is not available to the majority. Wrong. If they wish to measure true achievement and success, selfless service, they should visit Naval Station Newport, not Wall Street. They are looking in the wrong places because they know no better. They do not understand now, nor will they ever understand, that service to our fellow man is how we achieve on this earth.
Our character is not measured by the amount of wealth we earn as much as it is by the amount of respect we earn from people whom we admire and are worthy of admiration.
The words of Chief Petty Officer Edgar Ruiz, the enlisted man most responsible for shaping a class of newly minted Ensigns, were quite memorable. “When I wake up in the morning I ask a simple question, ‘What can I do for the Navy today?’”
This group of young medical officers may not pick up arms against the enemies we fight but they will be the ones that reattach the pieces. They will be the ones that are charged to heal the scars of war: many obvious to the naked eye and many more darkly hid deep within the souls of the warrior. The Book of John instructs us: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Next stop this weekend is Long Island, NY, where I will attend the christening of my grand niece, Kayla. She is just a baby and relies upon others for every protection: first from her Mother and Father; from family and friends; and then strangers. Some of those strangers who shall protect her have just passed through Golf Company, ODC Class 12060.
More than a century ago, Leo Tolstoy wrote,”Where love is, there God is.”
Taken together, our Armed Forces, including these Navy doctors, find themselves in a most perfect position to do God’s work here on earth. That makes them the 1 percent. There is no hourly wage for that.
The year 1976 is memorable for many things: the Bi-centennial celebration brought Op-Sail to New York Harbor; “Rocky,” the first “Rocky,” was the top movie; the Dow-Jones Index was at 1000; Mao Tse Tung had died and Richard Lugar was elected to the US Senate for the first time at the age of 44.
Richard Lugar, a Navy veteran and Eagle Scout, rose to prominence in Indianapolis politics, compiled what seems to be an impressive record and eventually grew his tenure in the US Senate. He was never seriously challenged until he lost in the Republican primary this past week by a landslide. Richard Lugar will leave the Senate chamber after this session ends after 36 years of service. He is 80 years old.
By any measure, his career is a distinguished one. He was a mover and shaker on the weighty issues of national security and nuclear proliferation. His colleagues on both sides of the aisle have paid him tremendous platitudes after learning of his defeat. Senator Susan Collins said that she cannot imagine the US Senate without him. Perhaps that is because she was only 23 years old when Mr. Lugar was elected. Senator John Kerry called it a “tragedy.” Has he not read “King Lear?” Peggy Noonan saw this coming and wrote an impassioned column pleading to spare Richard Lugar and grant him one more term because “the entire American government needs grownups.”
Well, Mr. Lugar was dealt a defeat at the hands of tea party backed candidate Richard Mourdock. I do not know much about his politics but I were a Hoosier I could imagine myself wondering if any individual who has been in service for 36 years could be anything but a career politician. These are bad times to have that label appended to anyone who holds office. Add a 6 year term on top of his 80 years and, well, you do the math.
These times are changing for both parties. Simply attaching an “R” next to your name does not automatically grant immunity from scrutiny, no matter how precarious the balance in the Senate may be. Extreme longevity disrupts the natural progression of candidates who otherwise seek other career paths. So many of us desire a real return to citizen legislators who are committed to service, yes, but not a career in office. A new Rasmussen poll indicates that 68% of Americans would replace the entire Congress if they could do so. The time for Richard Lugar to pass the reigns was long overdue. No matter what his accomplishments, the continued vitality of our government demands turnover more frequently than that of the old Soviet Politburo. I will not cry for him but I do applaud and honor his service to America.
And that brings me to another aging politician, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I would not normally call attention to her age and appearance except for the fact that she herself did so this week. Secretary Clinton let her hair down, quite literally, in South America. Her long locks cascaded to her shoulders; she appeared without make-up to cover up the age spots or smooth the crow’s feet; her glasses were the dark, thick rimmed kind normally reserved for reading in bed; and her attitude screamed, “I’m tired of talking about age and appearance.” Said Hillary, “You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.” Amen to that.
Now here is a lady with a career that can rightly be described as distinguished. One can certainly argue about pedigree and positions and choose to vehemently disagree on issue with her politics. What cannot be denied is that Hillary Clinton has not followed the traditional career path of one in such a position of power. She has been First Lady, US Senator, Presidential front-runner, and Secretary of State. She has not strung together more than two consecutive gigs in politics. That much I like.
There has been a lot of speculation about her upcoming resignation as Secretary of State and the potential of her running for President in 2016. Her timing may be quite ripe. Whether President Obama is done in 2012 or 2016, the Democrats will need a candidate. Many say why not her? I say, quit while you are ahead. At age 68 she may not physically be too old to run but she should take her clue from Richard Lugar and get while the getting is good.
I look forward to advising the same thing for the Senior Senator from Massachusetts, now in his 28th year in the Senate, when his term expires in 2014. Or he could step down sooner. Aren’t you just itching for another Senatorial special election?