It was a clear day out to sea that winter with most of the crew on deck enjoying the sun when we spotted the lone aircraft in the distance. As our convoy moved slowly across the Sea of Japan on what was my first deployment (Westpac for those of you in the know) we all soon realized the aircraft following was Soviet. The pilot began circling then flying low and showing off. There was no official engagement as it was a taunting game except for the crew. The plane turned and headed back toward our ship continuing his game. Laughter filled the air as sailors young and old looked up at the sky and responded in kind. Fists clenched and a multitude of ‘birds’ went up in the air. The rules of engagement were being tested on both sides; the taunting went on, we enjoyed it.
The pilot kept at it for a while before heading out, having made his statement. It was the Cold War and we knew our enemy. How the Soviets played the ‘I can get you now if I wanted to’ game was part of their deception machine. They lied to the world by orchestrating clashes between nations; they lied to their people when Afghanistan quickly went bad on them…
I was 20 years old and Ronald Reagan was president. We had a strong Navy. It was the stuff that made us stand and place a hand over our hearts and smile. We were Americans and we stood for all that was good and honorable. I was sure the other side felt the same about themselves but there were other players involved that most of us in my generation brushed away until they made their presence known.
Before joining the Fleet, the bombing of the Marine barracks brought a sense of awareness we did not have before. Stationed at Camp LeJeune as a young corpsman the desire was to deploy and see cruel reality of what islamic extremism could bring to America someday but that was not to be yet. One Marine named John ended up under my care. He had been asleep when during the attack and medevaced for his injuries. Some of the other corpsman had trouble doing dressing changes on the guy, a soft-spoken admin type with wire-brimmed glasses; he looked more like a college student than a Marine. He was well-adjusted to his injury and I was about the only one on the floor who could stomach taking care of him.
John’s left elbow had been blown out; leaving just enough connective tissue to make it look like his upper arm was still attached to the lower end. He would heal after many surgeries. That was a sobering realization that the world wasn’t all about MTV and that a destructive force was upon us. John took his situation with great courage and was prepared to move on and work for what he wanted. He often talked about college and becoming an officer. He had purpose and his injuries did not seem to cloud his vision of the future. A most admirable attitude.
Ronald Reagan gave his magnificent speech showed the world that when we stand our ground and remain resolute good prevails. The world both admired and feared such strength and frankly many never thought we’d see a time when such inner strength would be considered a liability rather than an asset. Korea still looked like a war zone during our visit with buildings protected with sand bags and razor wire and reality began to take shape. The hope was to see all these struggles go away; the method a most elusive endeavor. Life moved on, we all aged and put that memory behind us.
Closing my eyes time passed and the world is close to being on fire. September 11th marked the end of that grace period. We had plenty of time to observe what been going on in the world, how we grew away from principled leadership and governance and embraced the politics of inaction. National pride was tested but time has a way to make the pain diminish and before long many believed life returned to normal. The quiet times are the most dangerous. Many of us volunteered to serve again in uniform could not and do so in other ways. This is our time and everyone fights. Many came back from the comfort of their retirements to wear a uniform to teach to guide and pass on the knowledge lost during subsequent draw-downs. Waking up to this has been disturbing.
We have people in power who say that restraint is a personal quality in our military. Courage cannot the legislated or manufactured; it comes precisely from within a person’s soul and the decision to make a sacrifice belongs to that person. Offering to reward inaction or ‘restraint’ is designed to dishonor those who willingly serve to protect others and to demoralize them so that a hostile foe can thrive. I know that Reagan and Bush Sr. missed one Memorial Day celebration once each and that is not the purpose of my musings but rather an observation that we’ve gone from being those emulated and turned into the people everyone wants to avoid. For a president to purposely skip this day to get some rest like it’s just some ordinary weekend is a symptom of what had been born twenty or thirty years ago and this is its culmination.
The object is clear; to strip us of our pride and make us more ‘equal’ in accordance with global social justice. Our defenses are being lowered to please those hostile states we defeated time after time in the past. Our leadership treads the dangerous waters of appeasement and conduct business behind closed doors as to not raise questions. This isn’t new. What we have enjoyed in this country is still the envy of the world. Many fought and died, lost their wealth, damaged their reputation to forge this wonderful life for us to enjoy. The time has come for all to roll up our sleeves and make our contribution. What that is I can’t tell you or when you will be tasked but be ready. As many others jumped in to do the right thing, to fight for everyone’s future so will you. Though much of our history is being erased and re-written many of us carry that pride and love of country with us. I assure you that is one book that will never be burned; ever. When you’re done eating that barbecued meal look around and get ready. It’s time for hard work. To me it doesn’t matter where I wake; though some days I wish the Gipper would be around to handle things, but we’ll have to find some way to regain that sense of security once more. It’s about answering the call to duty.
God bless America.