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Friday, May 27, 2005

My Father's America

I am an American, fighting in the forces that guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense. -- US Military Code of Conduct, Article I

Give me, kind Heaven, a private station, A mind serene for contemplation: Title and profit I resign; The post of honor shall be mine. -- John Gay

These were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of the times. -- Ecclesiasticus 44:7

It wasn't the reward that mattered or the recognition you might harvest. It was your depth of commitment, your quality of service, the product of your devotion -- these were the things that counted in a life. When you gave purely, the honor came in the giving, and that was honor enough. --Scott O'Grady, USAF

I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate. It is, after all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all. --Leo C. Rosten

"Never give in! Never give in! Never, never, never. Never -- in anything great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense." -- Sir Winston Churchill

"Our own heart, and not other men's opinion, form our true honor." -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave." -- John Calvin Coolidge

"If you must choose between two paths, either of which will bring death and defeat, then choose the path wherein you die fighting for honor and justice." -- Pan Ku

"At the close of life the question will be not how much have you got, but how much have you given; nor how much have you won, but how much have you done; not how much have you saved, but how much have you sacrificed; how much have you loved and served, not how much were you honored." -- Nathan C. Schaeffer



I miss my Dad this time of year. Not because he was killed in action, but because throughout a life punctuated by achievement, trials, and personal demons, he felt his service in the USAF was where he found his best self. The clarity of ethical conduct appealed to his sense of how people need to be to and with one another. I think if he had been alive to witness this last presidential election his reaction would have been one of shame. Shame that there is no honor that cannot be shoved aside in the cause of winning. Shame that the debate of ideas is a distant second to the besmichment of character. This is not to say my Dad wasn't politically savvy, I grew up outside of Chicago, after all, but he did expect the people who earned his vote to "have some stones" when it came to making tough choices. Phrases like "civil servant" and "civic virtues" weren't lip service, they were core attitudes, as much a part of him as his size 12 1/2 feet.

During his lifetime he did not miss a single opportunity to vote. Not one. Voting, he explained, was a civilian's duty towards democracy. Not voting, in my house, was akin to capital crime. He and my Mother, both whip smart and good debaters, turned election time around our house into an unending series of congealing suppers on dinner-plates, chilling to the tune of political discourse. I can remember seeing my brother face down, asleep at the table while the pro's and con's raged, oblivious.

My Dad had very set ideas about behavior. There was no lying, no dissembling the truth when faced with the dark brown-eyed stare down. Honor was a mindset; trust earnest by conduct. These are all military ideals, I realize now. As a child, they were just the law. Deviations were disciplined. Conduct should never be compromised.

When I read about things like Abu Ghraib, I think about my Dad. I know what he would have thought was honorable in that situation. I know where he would have considered the line to be. Honor's qualities preclude avoidance of responsibility. My Dad, as an officer, would not have looked upon trials of service men and women favorably. The chain of command is absolute. You are responsible for your people. They don't piss without you knowing about it. Honor requires ethics, courage and responsibility. Honor earned is your strongest shield, but it is a transparent one.

My Dad was not a perfect father, but to me he embodied America. He always tried. He embraced duty, country and family with passion and commitment. You knew where you stood with my Dad. You knew where you stood with his America.

This weekend we look at ours. This is the great, untrumpeted gift of the Memorial Day holiday to our nation. It gives us an opportunity to see honor as it should be seen: quietly, in individual gratitude for the sacrifice, and with personal introspection for the enormity of that gift. As you look upon the faces of the dead, see them, but be also humble, as is befitting honor.

(The banner you see above came into being thanks to the efforts of Patcam2005 of DO NOT READ ANY OF THIS and me, and it represents only a portion of the service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq so far this year. Peace be with them.)

8 Comments:

At May 27, 2005 10:51 AM, Blogger Brother Kenya said...

Jet, what a moving piece. I wish that the ideals your father stood for were still part and parcel of the American mind. These days we might use the same words, but I'm afraid they are often hollow. Men and women are dying for those words.

 
At May 27, 2005 11:07 AM, Blogger windspike said...

Jet,

I saw this post over at bring it on, I think. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

 
At May 27, 2005 12:08 PM, Blogger Unadulterated Underdog said...

I don't know of anything to say except wars should not be fought without cause and a proper, honest and not lied-about cause at that. We ask our men and women in uniform to sacrifice themselves and thus our leaders should sacrifice their time to make sure the means and evidence is correct. Instead, they have for the past several years been presenting and mis-presenting details to make ends meet their aims. This is disrespectful and dangerous. Good post!

 
At May 27, 2005 3:07 PM, Blogger Jet said...

It was great to write this piece. It gave me the opportunity to crystallize what really irks me about what we're doing in Iraq verses what we're doing in Afganistan. As I worked on the banner photos, seeing (from my age vantage point) kid after kid whose chance at life was over, I could not get my Dad out of my mind. I miss honor, the inspiration it provides, and the salve it binds the soul with.

Idealism? You betcha. Where do I sign?

 
At May 28, 2005 8:51 AM, Blogger ~Betsy said...

One of many upsetting facts about our currrent administration is where W, Rove & Co. have chosen to make budget cuts to stay on track for the huge amount of money they spend in Iraq. They want to CUT veteran's benefits, and part of the plan is to not inform veterans of benefits to which they may be entitled. Each veteran would have to seek out their benefits.

As well as the cuts in education funding and programs for the poor, these cuts in veterans benefits are a slap in the face to the young men and women who are expected to spend years (not months) of their lives in a war of questionable purpose.

I found it laughable when the GOP said they think it's against the Geneva Convention to publish photos of Saddam in his undies. When did our current government begin to care about the Geneva Convention?

 
At May 28, 2005 8:04 PM, Blogger PATCAM2005 said...

Jet, I was thinking the same thing. Looking into the eyes of each one of those proud soldiers was a very somber experience, almost depressing. You had an awesome idea though, and it turned out great!

 
At June 01, 2005 11:05 AM, Blogger R said...

Great post Jet. Your dad would be proud that you still keep his dream of America alive. He would probably shudder with anger (as does anyone with a shred of intelligence) at what has become of our government and the Air Force. (I'm referring to the rapes the cover ups and the religious intolerance, that colors the once prestigious reputation) I hope we are able to get our boys home soon and out of that hell hole that Bush created.

 
At June 01, 2005 5:46 PM, Blogger 1138 said...

Jet,

Did I serve with your Dad?
If I didn't, my father did.
Those are Air Force values, not were, are.

 

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