Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Day Address

The following are my Memorial Day remarks delivered on Sunday, May 29, 2005:

This morning as we look out from the front porches of our homes in the land that Pres. Reagan called the "Shining City on a Hill", we remember what it has cost to build and defend this land. We remember all the members of our military who have paid for our freedom with their lives.

I would like to provide you a snapshot of one particular sacrifice by one American defending a hill in a faraway land. Perhaps it will encourage you (as it has me) to remember the sacrifices of those who have made our freedom possible.

In the Spring and Summer of 1990, I was a one of a class of a couple of hundred Marine lieutenants trying to find my way through The Basic School -- a six-month-long indoctrination of Marine lieutenants learning the "basics" of leading an infantry platoon before being sent to our respective duty stations and jobs in the fleet.

TBS was grueling, boring, and high-stress-inducing all in one. Job selections and duty stations depended upon performance. And worse still, the Marine Corps looked for a few, maybe as many of a half-dozen of us, who might have slipped through the cracks at OCS -- those lieutenants who either needed to be "recycled" through another TBS class or even worse ... discharged and sent home.

So, in addition to our concerns about our futures in the Corps, our fears of being one of those left behind drove us on. No one wanted to be at the bottom of the class.

Our land navigation class was an island of encouragement in a sea of exhaustion and dread. Each day a wiry, upbeat, square-jawed captain, whose name I still can't remember -- to us, he was just "Capt. Land Nav" -- would greet us with a wide, genuine smile and say, "It's a great day in the Marine Corps!! Hooyah!" Actually, the day usually wasn't good, but we would go wild any way.

Then, before he would teach us land navigation, he would begin each day's class by reading a Medal of Honor Citation of a Marine. Day after day, we just sat in awe as Capt. Land Nav read us the citations of these heroes. Months of land navigation. Days, weeks, months of citations. We heard of the heroism of Marines in places like Belleau Wood, the Chosin Reservoir, Iwo Jima, and Viet Nam. A number of these heroes were officers, too. Officers who had been there at TBS and tried to stay awake in classes, just like us. Every citation was amazing and inspiring. Yet, one stands out.

Here it is:


BOBO, JOHN P.

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U. S. Marine Corps Reserve, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, 3d Marine Division (Rein), FMF

Place: Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam

Date: 30 March 1967

Entered service at: Buffalo, New York

Born: 14 February 1943, Niagara Falls, New York

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

Company I was establishing night ambush sites when the command group was attacked by a reinforced North Vietnamese company supported by heavy automatic weapons and mortar fire. 2d Lt. Bobo immediately organized a hasty defense and moved from position to position encouraging the outnumbered Marines despite the murderous enemy fire. Recovering a rocket launcher from among the friendly casualties, he organized a new launcher team and directed its fire into the enemy machine gun positions. When an exploding enemy mortar round severed 2d Lt. Bobo's right leg below the knee, he refused to be evacuated and insisted upon being placed in a firing position to cover the movement of the command group to a better location. With a web belt around his leg serving as a tourniquet and with his leg jammed into the dirt to contain the bleeding, he remained in this position and delivered devastating fire into the ranks of the enemy attempting to overrun the Marines. 2d Lt. Bobo was mortally wounded while firing his weapon into the main point of the enemy attack but his valiant spirit inspired his men to heroic efforts, and his tenacious stand enabled the command group to gain a protective position where it repulsed the enemy onslaught. 2d Lt Bobo's superb leadership, dauntless courage, and bold initiative reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
We sat in silent awe for a number of seconds.

And then Capt. Land Nav broke the silence: "There's more, lieutenants," he said. How could there possibly be more, we thought? There was no way.

"Lt. Bobo," the Captain said, "finished last in his class at The Basic School."

You could have heard a pin drop, as a couple hundred Marine lieutenants sat in stunned silence. All of us had been facing our fears for some time. All of us, whether we wanted to admit it or not, wondered: Would I have what it took not to let my fellow Marines down? Was I good enough?

And this guy ... this guy who had finished last ... truly, the last had become first. He had done more than any could have expected. He took his final stand defending the high ground on a faraway hill so that his comrades and the rest of us could live securely on the "high ground" at home.

I thought of Lt. Bobo for the rest of TBS. Remembering his sacrifice gave me confidence and courage.

Lt. Bobo's sacrifice dramatically impacted his comrades, too. These were men whom he literally and figuratively carried to the "high ground".

Fifteen Marines in Lt. Bobo’s already-depleted platoon died on that fateful day in 1967. Nearly all of the survivors were wounded in the brutal onslaught of enemy mortar fire. But because of his sacrifice, Lt. Bobo helped 15 of his Marines not only to survive, but incredibly to repel the assault of an enemy with vastly superior numbers and firepower.

For the survivors, the 24-year-old lieutenant altered the course of their lives.

These were Marines with families. With children. With dreams. Like us. They told of Lt. Bobo’s heroism, which had carried them back up the hill and home to the "Shining City".

One life willingly laid down became a pebble in the ocean of humanity. Which led to waves of inspiration ... of second-chances ... of victory ... of lives saved ... of dreams sustained ... of families reunited and children born ... of hope.

Some forget. They won’t. They can’t.

There are thousands and thousands of others who, like Lt. Bobo, have given all. Few know their stories. Perhaps none know. There is the soldier who fell on a grenade to save his friends. There is the pilot whose plane went down in the dark of night. There is the sailor at sea, doing his duty, when a boat full of terrorists rammed his ship with explosives. Each had a story. Each gave all they could give. Each carries us today.

When you’re younger, it’s hard to realize and appreciate what you have. It's hard to understand how blessed you are to wake up every day and already have the world by the tail simply because you are an American.

As you get older, though, you begin to realize that the good things in life are not accidents. Indeed, the really good things are the exceptions to the chaos and disappointment that often characterize this temporal world. The truly great things in this life don't just happen. They require great sacrifice.

Indeed, though the desire for it beats in every human heart, freedom is the exception in this world rather than the rule. Freedom does not spontaneously combust. Without those willing to make great sacrifice for freedom, yes to fight for it and even to die, we will ultimately have peace. But we will not have freedom.

But this can sometimes be hard to grasp when you are born in a "Shining City" ... indeed, on freedom's "hill".

Young people don’t often feel the need to stop and reflect. They are moving too fast. Life calls. "Hurry!", it says. There is fun to be had, adventures to experience, boys and girls to meet, college degrees to attain, money to make, careers to plan.

But ironically freedom calls our young people back ... time and again ... to make the sacrifices continually required to reside on freedom's "hill". Because if you won't defend the hill you live on, ultimately you won't live there.

For tyranny does spontaneously combust. And then it advances on the free.

Approximately 1,800 young Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. They had dreams. They had comforts. They had opportunities. They had families.

They had children. About 1,300 children of service members have lost a parent (mostly fathers) since 9/11. This is sad, no doubt. However, we take comfort in knowing that these children have been left a legacy of service and dedication. And because of the example left to them -- which they will remember -- many of them will no doubt do the same.

Still more Americans will certainly perish in these conflicts we are fighting even as I speak. Why do they do it? They certainly didn't have to. In fact, they volunteered. They signed up because they love their country and their countrymen. They remembered what it takes to keep this land free.

"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."

We remember.