by Bob Knutson, RMC, USN,
They come from the farms, the
plains, the river bottoms, the great cities and some from mountain towns
"small enough to be sent for by mail".
From the windswept, rocky shores of Maine to the sun-washed beaches of
California. The humidity of south Florida to the arid climes of Arizona, New
Mexico and Texas. From the Gulf coast and the land of 10,000 lakes. North,
South, East and West and all points in between. From all across the broad sweep
of America, they bid their farewells to family and friends and begin what may be
the greatest adventure of their lives.
Why? Why do these young men and women, aglow with the flush of emerging
adulthood, filled with the hope and promise of the future, abandon hearth and
home to embark on a journey that could easily project them into eternity?
The reasons are as varied as the colors of their hair and skins. The rangy
Texan wants to sail the seven seas. The young black man from New York City
dreams of being one of "The few, the Proud". A young Georgia belle
wants to earn money for college to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, She
can get a head start by being a medical technician in the Air Force. The San
Franciscan wishes to break away from his strict traditional Chinese background
and "see the world". The list goes on and on.
The one reason none of them will probably give is to "Serve their
Country". Yet, that basic urge to serve is always there. These are not
ordinary youth, looking for an easy life and instant gratification. These are
the cream of America's young people, born to freedom, raised in an era of
unbounded opportunity and nurtured on the tales of patriotism, courage and
sacrifice that have always been the legacy of a free people.
So, they gather in the training centers. They quickly learn to function as a
unit, not as individuals. They develop an "Espirit de Corps" that
sustains them. They become riflemen, seaman, technicians, soldiers, sailors,
airmen and marines.
A few fail. That is the human condition. Most do their three or four year
hitch and move on to follow their dreams elsewhere. Some find a "Home"
in the service and go on to become SEALS, Rangers, Green Berets, Top Sargeants,
Chiefs. A very select few even rise to command. All those who stay become
teachers, passing the benefit of their experience and training on to the younger
people coming behind them.
Do they become wealthy? Not so anyone could notice. Do they find glory?
Rarely. Do they become world leaders. The fingers of one hand would be enough to
count those who have done so. DO THEY SERVE THEIR COUNTRY? In more ways than I
could begin to list here.
They do not pledge "Their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred
honor" as did those who signed the Declaration of Independence. Even so,
they are out there every day, giving of their youth and talent to uphold the
As we celebrate this 225th anniversary of our independence, take pride in the
parades, enjoy the barbeques, thrill to the fireworks that light up the evening
skies. While you're at it, though, take just a moment to remember these young
Americans from all walks of life who defend and protect the spirit of liberty
that was first proclaimed on July 4th, 1776.
Bob Knutson, RMC, USN, (Ret.)