(Photo credit: LIFE magazine)
by Diane Rufino, May 24, 2018
Cleaning out Dad’s apartment, I took notice, probably for the first time, of an excerpt of a speech that he had displayed in his room. The remarks were from a speech given by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur on May 12, 1962 to the cadets at West Point. It is now considered one of the top ten speeches of all time – and rightly so.
On that day, General MacArthur accepted the Sylvanus Thayer Award – an award presented to an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” In accepting that prestigious award, he delivered the following speech:
General Westmoreland, General Grove, distinguished guests, and gentlemen of the Corps….
As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, “Where are you bound for, General?” And when I replied, “West Point,” he remarked, “Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?”
No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this [Thayer Award]. Coming from a profession I have served so long, and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code — the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the animation of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always.
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.
But these are some of the things they do: They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.
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.
You now face a new world — a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.
We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.
And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.
Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, Honor, Country.
Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men’s minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation’s war-guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.
Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.
You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.
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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
My father had the last portion of the speech displayed in his apartment.
Dad was very patriotic; he loved this country. He loved his time in the service and would have gladly volunteered again to defend her. Duty. He felt an obligation to this country – the country that opened its arms to his father and mother; he felt an obligation to continue the tradition begun by his father, and that was to enlist and serve. It’s one of his most defining qualities and one that I can remember even from childhood.
And you should have seen his reverence for the American flag. He respected each flag as if it had draped the casket of a fallen soldier. He folded and stored each one with care.
This is the generation we are losing.
Their children (people like myself) grew up in a world saved by the guardians of freedom, but who quickly watched the evil forces within destroy the foundations that made her what she was. We tell our tales and share our experiences and warn of what the country will look like if we remain on this path, but our generation too is fading.
To the millennials, who are actively destroying this country – a country they will have to raise their families in and try to enjoy their lives in – I implore you to STOP with your identity politics, stop with the endless charges of racism, and with your utter reluctance to listen to and learn the truth. Trust me, the truth will not kill you and it won’t even hurt you. It will make you stronger, bolder, more intelligent, and armed with the proper tools you’ll need to meet the challenges of your time.
The Constitution is NOT a thing of wax to be molded into a document that suits your purpose; it is a document to keep government off your backs, out of your pocketbook, off your property, and away from your essential rights as a human being. Once you cloud the true meaning of one part of the Constitution, you cloud the entire document, imperiling and weakening its purpose as a shield against a heavy-handed government. You will, in fact, transform it into a sword with which to harm you.
If you seek societal change, please proceed the correct way, the constitutional way, which is the amendment process outlined in Article V. Please reject the improper way, the unconstitutional way, which is by using the federal courts to do an end-run around the legislature (and the democratic process) and the Constitution itself, and by embracing the legal fiction that the Constitution is a “living, breathing document.” The only thing that is living and breathing is life. And unlike the imagery generated – fabricated – by the term “living, breathing document,” life is actually defined strictly, according to laws that are fixed in nature and never changing. The “living, breathing document” approach is just the insidious creation of activist judges who wanted to give the courts the power to circumvent the Article V process, which in their minds takes too long and which also assumes that judges are smarter and know better than the states and the people themselves. Simply put, it is a invention to transform the Constitution and to transform US society faster than the body politic in general is ready to accomplish properly, legally, constitutionally.
My father and the men (and even the women) of his age lived their lives by a certain code of honor. They acknowledged the blessing bestowed on this country – to be spared the nightmare that befell Europe with Hitler in their backyard. And they acknowledged their role, their supreme sacrifice, in liberating the world of his menace, as well as defeating the evil ambitions of Imperial Japan. The comfort and solace they took in the role they played, for the most part, remained as a quiet and unspoken part of their lives. But the pride they felt in what they did and what they stood for, as well as their pride in country, was the foundation of the honor they displayed throughout their lives. The word “duty” and “honor” meant something very real to my Dad, and to other veterans of his era. In the movie A FEW GOOD MEN, Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) said: “We use words like “honor,” “code,” “loyalty.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something.” To my father, it meant respecting and honoring a country that secured freedom and offered him a home where he could have opportunities that he could never have enjoyed in other countries. Jessup’s next line – “You use them as a punch line” – seems to describe very well today’s millennials. They make a mockery of the very ideals our country once stood for. They are seeking to tear down the vestiges of the hallmarks that made this country what it used to be – including the right of free speech and the right to be able to defend oneself.
Who, from my father’s generation and my generation, can forget learning that Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto had reservations about invading the US mainland because of all the guns that citizens had for their protection. In a letter he penned in 1942, he wrote: “to invade the United States would prove most difficult because behind every blade of grass is an American with a rifle.”
To the millennials, please reflect on this: What makes the United States a “free” country is not the luxury of being spared words and commentary, even actual history, that hurts one’s feelings. It is not the hope (and the delusion) that banning guns will stop violent crime and mass shootings. It is not the right to determine when a developing human being must be evicting from your womb and killed, and it is not the right to entitlements, healthcare, or a free education. It is not the right to deny others their ability to live their lives according to their deeply-held peaceful religious beliefs just because it offends you or doesn’t fully embrace your lifestyle. It isn’t the right to re-define science and demand gender fluidity or to prevent every instance of discrimination (discrimination will always exist in the hearts and minds of humans as long as there is even one feature that makes us different). And it isn’t the right of other nationals (immigrants) to have unfettered access to this country and its resources and opportunities.
What makes us a “free” country is the right to “be left alone” by government, the right to the fruits of one’s labor, the right to an honest opportunity to the American Dream, the right to speak freely and without self-censorship for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or government retaliation, the right to assemble peacefully without fear that the police will stand down to allow violent opposition, the right to have and bear arms for self-protection (whatever the individual believes is necessary in his or her situation for self-protection), the right to privacy, the right not to have the government spy on citizens or to collect data (for possible future use), the right to one’s property without the government seizing it for its own purposes (or for a better purpose), the right to challenge one’s loss of life, liberty, or property (due process), the rights protecting a person should he or she be accused of a crime, the right to confront one’s accuser and to a trial (a speedy trial) by jury, and the right to be free of any cruel or unusual punishment. What makes us free is adhering to the divinely-inspired principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence – (1) that “All Men are created equal” and have inherent worth and dignity and endowed with the same rights; (2) that we are “endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights including Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, which means that they are part of our human fabric (not given to us by a benevolent government, and therefore not subject to forfeiture by said government); (3) that government is instituted for the primary purpose of securing our inalienable rights, and that no other purpose comes before that (certainly not for “taking care of us” cradle to grave, redistributing wealth, providing healthcare, ensuring entitlement programs, spearheading social change, etc); and (4) that government exists only as long as it serves its legitimate purpose, which first and foremost is to secure the individual (not collective) rights of man.
What helps ensure that we remain a free country is the role of the States against the federal government, as articulated in the Tenth Amendment, and NOT the right of the government to demand that each State blindly comply with the government, its court decisions, or to mandate that each conform to a “one-size-fits-all” model.
Again, I implore you, oh rebellious millennials, to read, study, and learn the truth. Don’t seek to change this country.. it is basically good and decent and generous and responsible. Respect it and preserve it. Make your mark, but do so intelligently, responsibly, legally, and most of all, respectfully. Generations have sacrificed more than you will ever know to allow you the privilege of calling yourself an “American” and to afford you the luxury to freely exercise the rights you do even as you seek to use them to deny rights to others and even to abolish them for yourself in the future.
Please hold this country in your care, as you would a child, ignoring what is best for you personally and putting the interests of your child first. Selfishness and the millennial “Me First” mentality (the “Politics of Me”) are what is dividing and killing this country. The beauty about America is not that we are a mix of different peoples but that we truly form “one people.” Politics is a nasty game that is, at its core, an aggressive adversarial system, pitting one side against the other, fighting for power and control. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the interests of the average citizen. You must understand that. Our country is more important than the outcome of some nasty, counter-productive, divisive political game…. It MUST be more important than that. Only we the people can make it so. In the coming years, it will be you, as you transition to the workforce and to parenthood, who will take the lead.
Please act responsibly. Please make this country admirable enough that, like my father and those of his age and era, her citizens would be willing to die for her.
(My Dad, age 18, in the Navy)