Veteran’s Day is a special day for our country and for me personally. Every November 11th, I find a quiet place where I can be alone for a few minutes to think, pray, and remember. I suspect I am not alone among veterans in needing a few moments to myself once a year to think my own thoughts and recall my own memories. Like many veterans I still find it difficult to adequately explain to people who have not served in uniform what my time in the military means to me and the impact it has had on my life. All of the baseball caps I wear carry the letters “USMC” just above the brim. People have asked me, “Why do you wear nothing but Marine Corps hats?” The best answer I can give to this question is, “If you have to ask that question, you wouldn’t understand the answer.”
The older I get the more meaningful my military service becomes to me. In fact, every Veteran’s Day as I pray for those who did not return or who returned broken in body or spirit, I thank God that I made the right decision and joined the Marine Corps at a time when service in any branch of the military was anathema to most of my peers. Joining the military today is viewed as a good thing, but that was not the case in the late 1960s and early 70s.
Part of my personal Veteran’s Day ritual is to contemplate a brief statement expressed by John Stuart Mill many years ago. Somehow Mill’s words seem to grow more powerful, more meaningful, and more relevant with each passing year:
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing that is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
I think the reason Mill’s words resonate with me is because when I joined the Marine Corps at the end of two years of college, several of my professors called me a “fool” as well as other things unprintable in a respectable journal. To them I became a symbol of insanity and a target of leftwing derision. I suppose it did not help that I gave back as well as I got, but my verbal combativeness only confirmed their opinion of me as a misguided war monger.
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