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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Honor and The Uniform*

Cryptologic Technician Network Chief Robert T. Couey;
Second Generation Chief Petty Officer
Third generation Navy

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, May 25, 2009
as "As Soldiers, We Honor Those Who Have Gone Ahead"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

Service in the military is a life-changing event. Whether one wears the uniform for one hitch or an entire career, the discipline, and sense of duty forever marks those who served. The veteran’s perspective is broadened, forever altered through the experience of having seen first-hand the unpolished areas of the world. That experience provided an education in reality no university could ever provide.

The military life is a hard one. Every day is an exercise in being pushed to the limits, only to discover far more capability than previously imagined. In meeting those challenges head-on, a person grows in ways that takes years to fully appreciate.

The relationships formed in such a crucible are in many ways the most valuable and enduring. Like steel, the most durable friendships are those formed in the hottest fire. That shared adversity forges links that endure across the decades.

The sign on the door announces a “reunion.” Coming down the hall, an old man, wrinkled and grey, walks with difficulty into a room filled with similarly old, gray, and wrinkled men. Then, their eyes meet. Suddenly, the years fall away. The backs straighten; the faces light up, perhaps there is a tear or two. Instantly, they are all in their 20’s again.

A reunion of veterans is not just a renewal of friendships. It is the all-too-brief visitation of youth. As the memories come flooding back, stories are told and re-told, admittedly with a somewhat carefree application of the truth. Remarkably, even though decades separate their last encounters, they pick up right where they left off, as effortlessly and comfortably as sliding into an old pair of jeans. It is good to see them, their backs straight, their heads held high; glowing with the pride borne out of service and sacrifice.

Over the weekend, there will be those poignant moments, especially for those who shared combat, when recalled are those comrades whose young lives ended on the battlefield. It is here that raw emotions, long suppressed but never truly forgotten, rise to the surface in an act of long-overdue mourning. Men normally resist such public displays. But not here, not now. For they are among friends, the only ones who will ever really understand.

One thing common to all who served was the clear understanding of honor. We learned it; we lived it; we breathed it. It was the unyielding standard by which we judged each other, and, more importantly, ourselves. And over the years, we came to understand that of everything we value, honor is the most important. Life may take from us our wealth, our position, and our possessions. But as long as we retain our honor, we are rich beyond measure.

“But if it be a sin to covet honor,
I am the most offending soul alive.
I would not lose so great an honor
As one man more would share from me

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
“For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall forever be my brother.

--Portions of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech from “Henry V”
By William Shakespeare

We wore the uniform; we carried the flag. We served the cause of freedom and brought that vision to those immersed in darkness who yearned for that light. Rather than hiding from adversity, rather than running from challenge, together we rose and shoulder-to-shoulder, stood our ground. On this Memorial Day weekend, we will pause and remember those who once occupied the now-empty spaces in the ranks. We will whisper the words of Lincoln…

“That from these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the final measure of devotion.”

We will renew that most sacred promise:

“That we, here, highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

The perspective of years is a gift of wisdom. Together, veterans look back, realizing that of the countless days of our life’s journey, those were our finest hours.

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