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Memorial Gratitude

26 May


It is early morning on Memorial Day in the United States. It rained last night and it is surprisingly cool. On mornings like this a ribbon of mist hangs over the river a quarter of a mile to the north. The fog snakes its way through the valley like a river suspended in the air. Sitting on the back porch sipping coffee I can hear an axis buck snorting in the trees to the east. It is going to be a great day.

Having spent several days earlier this month as a guest of the Air Force, I understand Memorial Day better than ever and have a much greater appreciation for its meaning. The debt we owe to our service members past and present can never be repaid. Acknowledging that obligation is the first step in an attempt to discharge the debt. I have written about this before in an essay titled “The Debt”.

I hit the sweetest of sweet spots in the martial history of the United States. Born in 1966, the war in Vietnam was long over by the time I turned eighteen. The Gulf War in 1990 was over in less than six months and was happening a million miles away from my then home base in Hawaii. Nothing was ever asked or required of me. What then should I do to show my gratitude to those men and women living and dead that made and continue to make my comfortable, back porch way of life possible?

While there is no way for me to fully repay the debt I owe to my country for the opportunities I have enjoyed, I can knowingly acknowledge the obligation for the tremendous benefits we share from our collective history. Thank you to my great uncles that fought World War II, to my uncles for their sacrifices in Southeast Asia, for my younger cousins and nephews in Afghanistan, and for my many friends throughout the military. Memorial Day is your day. I salute you in gratitude.

Favorite Things of 2012

1 Jan

The Debt

4 Jul

I was in debt the day I was born.

By pure luck, that happy event occurred in the United States. My parents, who are still married after 49 years, were free to have me. That was 1966 and my freedom was more or less secure. I was free to grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. According to my mother that even included becoming President of this great country. As there always have been, there were external threats to our way of life, but I certainly felt safe in my Mayberry-like hometown. This freedom was bought at a dear price by multiple generations before me and secured by a military comprised of people from all walks of life. I owed them something for our shared heritage.

I was well educated by wonderfully committed teachers – including my mother and grandmother – in public schools where US history and civics were still an important part of the curriculum. The prevailing culture valued hard work and moral behavior. Volunteers throughout the community played a role in my upbringing. There were little league coaches, scout masters, Sunday school teachers, and occasionally law enforcement officers involved in my raising. When I was ten, we celebrated our country’s bicentennial and we were reminded of our patrimony. The recognition of my debt was reinforced.

Compulsory military service in the United States ended in my teens, so after high school the people of the great State of Texas paid for me to go to college and then heavily subsidized my graduate education at a world-class university. From there, I went on to live the American Dream of raising a family, doing a job that I love, starting a business, enjoying financial security, and loving the freedoms of life in United States. It has been a good life that was only possible because of the liberties we enjoy in this exceptional country.

What has been asked of me in return for the gift of my heritage? Not much. Society asks that I obey the few laws we have that seek to restrain our more destructive behaviors and that I pay my share of the operations of our collective efforts through taxation. I do not believe that this is sufficient to discharge the debt I owe to my country for the opportunities I have enjoyed. This is why I am committed to service.

I reject the notion of the “self-made” man in the United States and the idea that if you “didn’t ask for anything from society” then you owe nothing in return. By luck of birth you were granted an enormous advantage. If you knowingly acknowledge that, then you can’t in good conscience ignore the debt you owe your patrimony. We receive tremendous benefits from our collective history. We have a civic obligation to recognize these benefits and to make an extraordinary effort to ensure our future success.

I remain in debt, and on this Fourth of July, I suspect that you do too.

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