This, My Friends, Is Honor

It probably won’t surprise you to know I’ve more or less completely eschewed even reading the news, or watching it on the television.  Nothing there holds much for me but anger and outrage.  Never one to be a hypocrite, I take my own advice, and seeing nothing that I like, change the channel or read a book.

My favorite human being and codependent-blogger, H.E. Ellis, a woman of exceptional intellect and rapier wit, pointed me to the topic of this post, knowing my background and tendencies.  Many of you may not yet know why this is important to me, but I’ll make it as plainly clear as a 2×4 to your teeth, as you would expect from me.

A few days ago, yet another batch of our children died at the hands of one of their own.  But, of course, we offer prayers, wring our hands, and tweet worthless thoughts about what ought to be done.  This post isn’t about gun control.  It isn’t about what should change.  It isn’t about immigration.  It isn’t even about our ineffective leader, who’d rather golf than do the right thing.  This, rather, is about honor and my perception of what that word means.

Among the children murdered in Florida, three rose above the rest and sacrificed their lives in an astoundingly profound show of selflessness.  Three young Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps – JROTC for short – were forced to make a choice in a situation most of us hope to never make.  Here are their names.  Please read them, and read them deliberately:

Alaina Petty

Peter Wang

Martin Duque

Photo credits: Petty Family, AP, Instagram

None of the three were old enough to even enlist in our military, and yet they wanted to.  They weren’t old enough to buy beer, but that didn’t stop them from acting.  They’re all younger than my youngest kid, and they always will be.  They’re all dead, and nothing will change that now.

The Army is making sure they receive appropriate awards for their selfless sacrifice.  Peter Wang, who dreamed of attending West Point, received a posthumous admission to the Class of 2025.  Peter Wang died holding a door open so that his schoolmates could escape the horror as they fled.  Peter Wang, it was reported, died of multiple gunshot wounds.  I applaud my alma mater for this gesture, regardless of what you, any other graduate, or someone random might think.  It is fitting.

This is important to me because a long time ago, I was a fifteen-year-old aspirant to West Point.  I worked hard in the face of a daunting reputation for selectiveness and rigor.  Against the odds in my recollection, I got in.  I further managed to graduate.  I then served 23 years as a Commissioned Officer in our Army.  I have a big, fat hunk of gold around my right ring finger attesting to what I did.  Today, were I the Commander In Chief, I’d rip it off and give it to Peter Wang’s parents.  It wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to them, but perhaps it would offer the consolation that their son’s dream had meaning, and it was recognized.

In my Army career, I often had to consider the possibility of coming home – in the Spartan sense – on my shield, not carrying it.  Anyone who serves, regardless of their choice of service, at some point considers this thought as well.  We of the military write checks, made out to America, and in the little money box, we pen in carefully, “My life.”

Warfare, for all its ugly reality, somehow manages to occasionally inspire the very best of the human capacity for sacrifice, valor, and selflessness.  It somehow does this when you are dirty, thirsty, and scared senseless while bullets and artillery shards rain around you, to perceive a moment of absolute clarity and act.  Often, that act enables your fellow brothers and sisters to live while you, unfortunately, die.  The few living American Congressional Medal of Honor recipients will typically describe this simply as such: “I was just doing my job.”

I feel compelled to remind my audience at this point that this sort of decision is informed by training, strict discipline, and a unique love for your battle buddy found only in the shittiest of shitty places, situations, and times.  It’s not informed by prom, weekend car washes, and high school finals, nor should it be.  We in and of the military prefer to believe we serve – and have served – so that our loved ones may not worry about such decisions.

I’ve written some pretty good words here about Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.  America is built on the sacrifice of generations, and of men and women who decided, in that moment of fatal clarity, that their life was worth less to them than the greater good of their country and what it stands for.  As I’ve pointed out, the soil around the world to include our own is stained with American blood, and that same soil enfolds our dead heroes in its cool embrace.  The lucky ones come home under the same flag they saluted, fought for, and defended.  That, my friends, is the price of freedom.

To extend the thought and tie back to what is truly important here, honor can be thought of as writing the my life check.  Honor can be the sacrifice of the one for the good of the many.  I would suggest, now, that honor can also be the taking on of the Soldier’s mantle, even before one is ready to be a Soldier, and to make the decisions, and to make the sacrifice, and to give up all your tomorrows, so that your friends might get to enjoy all of their yesterdays.


This, my friends, is honor.

8 Responses to “This, My Friends, Is Honor”

  1. What a truly inspiring post!

  2. This post is so true. Chills.

  3. I am glad to see your alma mater recognizing this young man and the sacrifice he made for others.

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