By Geoff Metcalf
May 26, 2008
“It is not the critic who counts…” --Teddy Roosevelt
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for all those who have died in service to our nation. Once upon a time it was known as Decoration Day. It commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in military service. It was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. However, after World War it was expanded to include casualties of any war or military action. Our liberty and freedom have been (and are being) paid for with the blood of our military.
This is a time to remember … and hopefully to learn. Duty, Honor, Country are more than just words to those who wear the uniform.
These comments are largely a rewrite collection of past columns I have written about Memorial Day. This holiday has always meant a lot to me personally.
I am a ninth generation Metcalf who has served in the military. I need to make the distinction between ‘military’ and ‘uniform’ because when Michael Metcalf answered the militia call to fight in the King Philip’s War in 1676 he wore no uniform but still ‘served’.
King Philip’s War was a conflict between Native Americans and southern New England English colonists and their Native American allies.
It has been estimated that the War killed nearly almost 88% of the Native American population in the region and some 46% of the English settlers. Proportionally, King Philip's War was one of the bloodiest and costliest in the history of America.
There is a natural tendency for each generation to bemoan the contemporary generation and hyperbolize their predecessors. Much has been written about our fathers and grandfathers who served in WWII and "the greatest generation" …and it is richly deserved.
I don't mean to diminish the extraordinary acts, accomplishments and achievements of past generations – each has contributed and each has paid for our liberty and freedom (even when we didn't appreciate or deserve it). However, THIS generation – the young men and women who serve today in the very real war we fight – are remarkable.
Today's military is smarter, more fit, better equipped, and as committed as any generation from Valley Forge to Iwo Jima or Pleiku to Bosnia. They have also been subjected to harsher more ubiquitous criticism than their predecessors. We have an all-volunteer military that is dedicated to protecting YOU.
Charles M. Province wrote a poem called "The Soldier” in which he notes:
is the soldier, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.
is the soldier, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
is the soldier, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.
is the soldier,
who salutes the flag,
who serves under the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.
As a young second lieutenant at Fort Benning, I remember driving on post in the early evening. A cannon would announce the striking of the colors and everyone on post would stop. Cars would stop and drivers would get out, face toward Infantry Hall and (if in uniform) salute until the music faded. Kids would stop playing baseball and stand quietly hats off with their hands on their hearts until the flag was lowered, and then life would resume.
Those brief daily moments of respect, courtesy and honor were routine but very special. I often wonder if those same simple but important things happen today. I hope so.
This Memorial Day we are thick into an acrimonious hard fought Presidential race. Presidential politics is a blood sport. However, when the partisan rabble engages, they don't put their own blood at jeopardy but the blood of our armed forces.
A chronic pet peeve of mine has always been the perpetual spitting match between partisan foes intent on destroying political opponents. This fault transcends partisan party divides to a basic "us" against "them" battle.
At least once a year (usually about this time) I find myself quoting Jack Hoban's "Warrior Creed." Hoban is a martial artist and a Marine. In the wake of years of study under Dr. Robert Humphrey, Jack synthesized his lessons into:
Wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I'm there.
Wherever I go, everyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I'm there.
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Although ‘The Creed’ was crafted to instill a concept for Jack's students (both martial arts students and Marines he still trains) in many ways it kinda crystallizes the American military.
Please remember to remember this Memorial Day, and tell any veteran you might encounter, "Thanks for your service."