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A New Mission On Veterans Day

Strength comes from within, as does indifference. I remember this hapless kid in basic training, and his name was Cromwell, I think.  Kind of quiet and withdrawn, but friendly just the same. Only problem was he couldn’t march. Not for love, nor money, nor chow, and he kept forgetting to lead with his left foot when the drill instructor called Forward March. Sure as sun up, he’d lead with the right foot, and then try to do a skip-step to get in sync with the rest of us. But it never quite worked, so he would keep trying to skip-step, and we all looked like a formation of troops marching flank around Dorothy skipping her way to Oz.  

“You’re bouncing around like an [expletive] cork in water!,” roared the drill sergeant, who finally put a rock in Cromwell’s left hand and told him to always lead with the side that held the rock. That worked pretty well until the instructor called To The Rear March, and everyone turned on their heel and began marching in the opposite direction except Cromwell, of course, who went crashing into the formation like a bowling ball into the pins. But the kid never gave up, never grew indifferent. He had a strong heart, and he kept at it until he eventually got the hang of it. Just a small lesson, I suppose, but one that played out repeatedly in larger ways.  

One of the enduring lessons of military service is that the sheer force of will can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. When the body gives out, there are as yet untapped reserves for those with the will to dig them out, ignore or even embrace the pain, and press on. But I must admit that those reserves seemed to be in short supply just a few days ago. 

Happily put away, high up in a magnificent Freightliner that looks like it was dipped in military regalia, I confess to having felt like an ambassador of general goodwill to all and a reminder that freedom comes at a high price. But then, it seemed that a majority of our countrymen decided that they don’t much want to be free, but rather wish to be taken care of by their benevolent masters in Washington. This splendid rolling reminder suddenly seemed like more of a relic than anything else, an outdated throwback to another time when people believed they were sovereign. “All gave some, some gave all,” …for what? To secure the blessings of the individual mandate, with free Obama Phones and food stamps for all? No thanks, I’ll just wait over here until everyone comes to their senses. 

Then, mother nature intervened with a nasty storm that prevented me from moving the truck for awhile. It was just as well, as I would have been tempted to move it into a ditch and take a bus back to Louisiana, such was my despair. In any event, my destination was New Jersey, and after what that state had just done electorally, I was even less enthusiastic about visiting them than usual.

IMAG0689.jpgBut I’ve noticed something. This truck moves people to great emotion. The massive flags on the sides, the POW/MIA displays on the sides and the hood, the silhouettes of soldiers, the memoriam statements on the fenders … they seem to reach deep into a person’s heart. Just a couple of weeks ago, in Laredo, a FedEx truck parked next to mine at a warehouse and the driver got out and began aiming his camera phone toward my truck (I’m sure it’s just me, but it does seem that she smiles when people take pictures.)  I got out to meet the gentleman, and to also keep from being a part of the photo. A Marine, this gentleman served in Vietnam. “We didn’t see things like this when we came home,” he said. “Well, take a good look now sir, because this is for you,” I answered, and then shook his hand and welcomed him home.

In Houston, just a week ago, while they were loading me up with storm relief supplies for the Northeast, a fork lift driver drove his fork lift out of the warehouse and into the parking lot to have a gander at the truck. Of course the camera came out, which was my signal to step out and meet him. He was Army, and a Desert Storm Vet. He walked up close to get a photo of the memoriam statement, but then asked if I would take the photo for him. His eyes had teared up a bit and he couldn’t see good. “What they did,” his voice wavered, “…to those people in Benghazi.”  Struggling to steady his emotions, he practically whispered, “That was WRONG! We don’t leave our people like that!”  ”Yes sir,” I said, “I understand.” What else is there to say? After Vietnam, we swore we wouldn’t do that kind of thing again, but an oath won’t get you a cup of coffee these days. 

I thought about him on election night. I’ve thought about our troops in Afghanistan and across the globe. They deserve better than a half-hearted pat on the on the back and a parade one day a year. And our Founding principles deserve more than a shrug while we retreat into the darkness of serfdom. And so I’ve determined to do now as I learned to do those many years ago. Dig deep. Conviction, knowledge, faith, and a good dose of humor … those are the reserves from which to draw.It’s time to  represent the best of us, the best way possible, and that includes this beautiful traveling banner. At the end of each day, as I polish the chrome and shine my baby up, I remember those who are serving  so far from home, doing heroic work at risk of life and limb, but with a hole in their heart as they miss their wives, husbands, children, and parents.  

IMAG0690.jpgPolishing the wheels to a mirror finish, I remember the immaculate precision with which members of our honor guard carry our dead to their final rest. Shining the chrome mirror covers, I look up to see the words “In Honor of Gold Star Families” over the driver and passenger doors. They have it the hardest, ya know. We speak of sacrifice, but we know nothing, nothing at all of the pain and sacrifice they carry every day of their lives. Cleaning and polishing the front grill, I see the imposing visage the vehicle strikes and, in its own way, it recalls the teeth on the front of the 23rd Fighter Wing’s A-10s, or the death delivering vision of the AC-130 at work, the battleships, the tanks, a Marine about to make a house call on the enemy, and even old Cromwell himself marching proudly and flawlessly at graduation.

Though the country may go to hell, and even as we continue the fight for freedom here at home, I owe it to those whose fidelity is never in question to represent them in the best way humanly possible. It may be a relic to some, but the Ride of Pride will continue to be a spotless and shining example of the best of America and, yes, the truly exceptional nature of free people. To all Veterans, thank you for your service.  And to all who currently serve, God bless you and keep you. And truly, thank you.

  1. Percival

    Maybe the post interface should have a “Thanks, Dave” button for your posts.  It doesn’t, so…thanks Dave.

  2. Goldgeller

    Thanks for posting this. It was very inspiring.

  3. Trink

    I’m crying . . . my husband across the room is choking back tears as he reads this piece.  He served at Fitzsimons Army Hospital during Vietnam.  Took care of the boys coming home.

    We’re about to raise the Gadsden flag beneath the Stars and Stripes . .

    God Bless America and the men and women who have served and those who now keep her free . .  and God bless you, Dave. 

    http://outback.hodar.com/index.html

  4. Liz Wirth
    Percival: Maybe the post interface should have a “Thanks, Dave” button for your posts.  It doesn’t, so…thanks Dave. · 1 hour ago

    Ditto that!

  5. Matthew Gilley

    Keep doing well by doing good, Dave. I’m also glad to see contributors like you and Dunphy with spine – not much of that’s been in evidence lately.

  6. AUMom

    Thank you, Dave. What an inspiring way to begin the day, which honors the men and women who sacrifice for this beloved country.

  7. retromom

    Thanks, Mr. Carter.  We do ministry with the military in Rota and the Marine Fast Company that finally went into Libya was our guys…so it hit close to home here, too…God bless you and your truck — which is a ministry in itself!

  8. Cornelius Julius Sebastian

    Many thanks Dave, for your service and this post!

  9. Boymoose

    Thank you Mr. Carter for your sacrifice on my behalf.

    To all vetrans on Ricochet, Thank you.

  10. Christie  Pennington
    I’ve thought about our troops in Afghanistan and across the globe.  They deserve better than a half-hearted pat on the on the back and a parade one day a year.  And our Founding principles deserve more than a shrug while we retreat into the darkness of serfdom.  And so I’ve determined to do now as I learned to do those many years ago.  Dig deep. Conviction, knowledge, faith, and a good dose of humor, …those are the reserves from which to draw. It’s time to  represent the best of us, the best way possible, and that includes this beautiful traveling banner. 

    Well done as always Daddy! So many good quotes in here! Moves a little girl to tears don’tcha know! Thank you for fighting for Ben and I all those years ago. And thank you for fighting in a different way for us and your precious grandson now! As his mother it means more to me than I could ever tell you! Love you dearly! Happy Veterans Day!

    Pssst…. Treat yourself to a good dinner ya hear!? :)

  11. Dave Carter
    C
    Christie Pennington

    I’ve thought about our troops in Afghanistan and across the globe.  They deserve better than a half-hearted pat on the on the back and a parade one day a year.  And our Founding principles deserve more than a shrug while we retreat into the darkness of serfdom.  And so I’ve determined to do now as I learned to do those many years ago.  Dig deep. Conviction, knowledge, faith, and a good dose of humor, …those are the reserves from which to draw. It’s time to  represent the best of us, the best way possible, and that includes this beautiful traveling banner. 

    Well done as always Daddy! So many good quotes in here! Moves a little girl to tears don’tcha know! Thank you for fighting for Ben and I all those years ago. And thank you for fighting in a different way for us and your precious grandson now! As his mother it means more to me than I could ever tell you! Love you dearly! Happy Veterans Day!

    Pssst…. Treat yourself to a good dinner ya hear!? :) · 4 minutes ago

    Awwww, thanks kiddo!  It was, and still is, an honor.  Love you too.  

  12. Jim Chase

    Thanks, Dave.  As the proud son of a veteran, we must continue to stand for this republic, for as long as she stands.  On days like today, I’m drawn to the quote from my bio:

    “Who we are, in other words, still depends crucially on what we are prepared to stand up for – and on our willingness to stand up for it. Who we are today … is unquestionably the product of what previous generations were prepared to stand up for even at the cost of their lives. Therefore, when we cease to honor such sacrifices, … we cut ourselves off from our past and, in some essential sense, from our selves.” – James Bowman

  13. Sky King

    Bravo, Dave, bravo. Well stated and well painted. Wow, that’s one fine Freightliner; she needs to be on the cover of a calendar or something.

    Hang in there. The pendulum swings.

    Happy Veterans Day and Thank You

    Sky King (Capt, USAF, 1998-2002)

  14. Dave Carter
    C
    Sky King: Bravo, Dave, bravo. Well stated and well painted. Wow, that’s one fine Freightliner; she needs to be on the cover of a calendar or something.

    Hang in there. The pendulum swings.

    Happy Veterans Day and Thank You

    Sky King (Capt, USAF, 1998-2002) · 12 minutes ago

    You too, sir.  Thanks.  

  15. DocJay

    A very worthy tribute. Thank you.

  16. John Grant
    C

    Great post Dave.

    We had a guy just like Cromwell in my basic training company at Fort Benning (E Company, 2/54 Infantry). He was a good soldier in every other way, and he also stuck with it until he was perfectly competent at drill and ceremony.

    Cromwell and all of those who have served or are serving deserve better than this.

  17. Babci

    Thank you, Dave.  I’m amazed at the power of your words to move my 230 lb. combat engineer husband to tears.  You always strike a chord with him.  It must be your shared love of this beautiful country and the American ideal.  Happy Veterans Day!

  18. Devereaux

    You so often seem to trip thoughts that are hiding in my mind somewhere.

    I totally agree with your tribute to soldiers, past and present, who have fought for this nation. They have created our heritage, and such things should be honoured.

    Still, I am worried. We have a “volunteer” force today, and it seems to say that citizens are not soldiers any more. We have no requirement to defend our state any more. We can “choose” to do so, but it’s a career choice, like any other. That makes me nervous. Today I am told the Marine Corps would probably not take me, nor most of my Basic School class of LT’s. Yet I don’t see the individuality, the wildness, the devil-may-care attitudes we once had. We weren’t foolish in combat. But we were far less subservient to rank – you might have been our superior, but you still had to prove you were our leader.

    This in not to say that our military has performed badly.  It is to say that I worry about a nation that is no longer willing to defend itself. Europe has gone that route, and look at them.

  19. Joan of Ark La Tex

    Thank you for another great read. I was invited together with Instugator to a dinner by a group of outstanding veterans of Military Officers Association of America. There were several Colonels and their wives, from 70 to 92 years old. I felt like I was transported back in time. These groups of men and women joked and laughed and prayed and talked passionately about their military careers and being Americans. I wonder, in our generation, how many would talk passionately about being Americans in our old age. 

  20. Nanda Panjandrum

    Thanks, Dave…God bless you real good!