annual tribute rightfully honors the sacrifice of the multitude who gave their
lives in unconstrained service to our country, at the request of and for their
fellow countrymen. The sacrifice of
those who went before and died for those who would come after should never be
forgotten. But at the individual
level, what kind of American is it that willingly follows such a patriotic path
of selfless service knowing well that path may not lead them home again?
living with such great Americans for the better part a lifetime, one realizes
that this knowledge of the individual soldier is not the result of an instant
epiphany—it evolves over time and elicits as many varied emotions as there are
those who wear the uniform. Although
heartfelt, to adequately describe what that heart feels about these exceptional
human beings is oft times difficult to articulate in a way that does laudable
justice to those most deserving.
was one old soldier however that described this kind of American about as well
as any I’ve ever heard—one who not only internalized that realization, but
one who earned the credentials to articulate it.
That man was General Douglas MacArthur and he did so in a magnificent
speech given at West Point in May 1962—his last address to the Corps of future
Army leaders. What better Memorial
Day tribute then than to read an excerpt from one of the best descriptions of
the American soldier and his service ever given by one of the best American
soldiers who ever served.
“…And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.
He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. 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 the mire of shell-shocked 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 we sought the way and the light and the truth.
And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts; those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms; the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails; the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished; the deadly pestilence of tropical disease; the horror of stricken areas of war; their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory -- always victory. Always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password of: Duty, Honor, Country.
The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.
The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training—sacrifice.
In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.
However horrible the
incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his
life for his country is the noblest development of mankind….”
“…This does not mean that you are war mongers.
On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.
But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.
Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.
I bid you farewell.”
~ General Douglas
MacArthur ~ 12 May 1962 West Point, NY
The view from the
I strongly urge you
to listen to that speech just as he gave it at American Rhetoric’s Online
under “Speech Index”, go to “Get
Speeches A-F” scroll down to Douglas MacArthur Duty, Honor, Country, pour
yourself a drink, sit back and listen to history spoken from the heart of a
venerable old soldier about those he admired and was privileged to lead
throughout his most distinguished life.
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