Let me conclude this three part series by telling you a story. It is a true story with a valuable lesson that I hope I can do justice to.
Perhaps the most recognized photo of World War II is the classic photo taken by Richard Rosenthal of Marines raising the American Flag on Mount Surabachi on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific during that conflict. One of those flag-raisers was a man named John Bradley who was a Navy Corpsman. The night before the flag-raising, John held a dying marine in his arms and gave him his canteen of water. He just would not let a dying marine go thirsty. Then he went off crawling from foxhole to foxhole treating marines for various combat injuries and wounds, himself being hit twice by bullets in his leg and upper torso. For his actions on Iwo Jima, he received the Navy Cross, a Bronze Star with V for valor and two Purple Hearts.
His actions on Iwo Jima were a clear and compelling case of selfless sacrifice….serving a need greater than himself. Indeed, the words “non sibi, sed patriae” Latin meaning “not for self, for country” describe the passion and conviction by which these young men, the best our county had to offer, approached their duties. I saw those words for the very first time some 59 years ago inscribed on the entrance to the Chapel at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I really did not have an appreciation for them back then but I sure understand their significance today.
So again, why do I spend so much time focusing on these arguably “old fashioned ideas and concepts”. Well, this is why.
Selflessness is unforgettable. Even small acts of selflessness are unforgettable. As I have told my five sons, at some point in life you will find yourselves placed into positions of great responsibility. You will one day be men of letters and possess a special and unique educational experience. That alone will cause the mantle of responsibility to be thrust upon you. And because of who and what you are you must don that mantle of responsibility, whether you like it or not. With responsibility comes many challenges. These challenges normally are translated into choices. A choice to cheat or not. A choice to buy or sell. A choice to lie or tell the truth. A choice for surgery or therapy. A choice to approve or disapprove. A choice to invest or not. A choice to do nothing. But of all the choices you will face there is none greater than the choice between self or selflessness. Is the benefit for you? Or is it for your team, or your patient, or your clinic, or your company, or the troops under your command or your family?
Selflessness takes time to develop. Rarely does a man or woman suddenly grow a brain and a spine in the middle of an operating room, boardroom or on a battlefield.
Likewise; rarely does a person develop a sense of selflessness in a single moment in time. Spontaneous selfless acts rarely happen. Instead, they manifest themselves and are built on a strong moral foundation, then carefully layered by doing the right thing time and time again. There’s that word again….Integrity.
All of us possess the ability to develop a strong character, strong morals, a strong sense of duty and integrity. The question is do we have the will? Regrettably, the leadership of our country today is sorely lacking in these traits. But that should not diminish our efforts to value them, to augment them with the strengths of selfless sacrifice buttressed by character and integrity. Use them to teach, to provide the kind of leadership for your families, your children and grandchildren. Start by attending School Board meeting and voice your concerns over what children are being taught, even if you do not have a child in school. Demand that American history be taught as well as the principles upon which our nation was founded. Demand that schools retain their names like Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, MacArthur, Adams, Hamilton. Focus on American Exceptionalism and refuse to accept educational curriculums like the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory. Stand up for your country…and for the children…they represent our future From their ranks may come one day the kind of individuals who will step forward to lead our great nation back to the principles upon which the American Experiment was founded…a love of God, freedom, truth and justice..
As Polonius said to his son in Act I of Shakespeare’s Hamlet…This above all: to thine own self be true and it must follow as night and day, thou canst not be false to any man”
Your future……our future…..your children’s and grandchildren’s future depend on it. The alternatives are both depressing and ominous.