I am living the last years of my life—having the privilege of believing in and fighting alongside America’s youth many years ago. The preciousness and value of each life is the highest and best investment we can make in humanity, and there is no better place than America to love and honor future leaders who believe and hope in themselves.
In a previous generation, I trained and fought next to 18- to 21-year-old troopers who laid down their lives so that others may live. Do not tell me that you do not understand or do not have enough experience to make sacrifices. How much experience is necessary to say “yes” when called upon to serve and love one’s nation? Great courage and bravery is often packaged in the youngest of bodies.
As I look into your youthful eyes, I am reminded of the eyes of my young troopers I led in 1965 in the first major battle of the Vietnam War. Before we departed U.S. soil for enemy territory, I spoke these words from my heart to my men. It was a different time and a different Army, but I believe this message still applies today. So, dear America, I repeat these words today to the young heart of a new generation:
“Look around you, in the 7th Cavalry we have a captain from the Ukraine, another from Puerto Rico and we have Japanese, Chinese, Blacks, Hispanics, Cherokee Indians, Jews and Gentiles—all Americans. Now, here in the States some men in this unit may experience discrimination because of race or creed, but for you and me now, all that is gone. We’re moving into the valley of the shadow of death, where you will watch the back of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won’t care what color he is or by what name he calls God. Let us understand the situation. We’re going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive, but this I swear: When we go into battle, I will be the first one to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will come home together. So help me God.”
During that fierce battle in Vietnam’s remote Ia Drang Valley, I lost 79 good men to death—many of them young and all of them dying so that others might live. Another 121 Americans were injured. I kept my promise and brought them all home. On this Memorial Day, I pray that none of you have to experience the killing and carnage that I witnessed during that brutal three-day battle. I pray that you will rise to a different kind of challenge—one in which service to country is focused on peace rather than war.
Every 10 years or so, a new crop of young leaders emerge who say “yes” to sacrifice—smarter than those ahead of them, ready to take on the world—dedicated to serve others in causes bigger than themselves.
I like what I see!
To you who are soon to be men and women, I plead that you become ever more vigilant in learning and practicing the highest standards of leadership—and in the best of ways, leading self and others for a more honorable and peaceful America. Every youth should work to “challenge themselves” in this way.
So here is my Call to Action to each of you—one that will make a difference.
- Give something back in the name of personal sacrifice. What are you willing to live for? Use this Memorial Day as a day of reflection, taking stock of self and changing in some way how you choose to live your life as an emerging American leader.
- Be a person of increased civility. Civility is the cultivation of habits of personal living that are important for the success of family, community and nation. Honor the basics of kindness and respect for others.
- Pledge not to join in the chorus of horrendous vulgarity that has become commonplace in our beautiful English language. Select one word you know to be filthy and never say it again. More so, when another violates your pledge, ask them not to repeat that word in your presence.
- Learn to lead self first. If you cannot lead yourself, you cannot lead others. Take charge of yourself and others, for within you is a unique gift to lead in some way.
- In leading others, never leave another behind. Be certain that others are taken care of before you leave—and be the last “boots” off your battlefield in life.
- First, last and always, know that the game of life is not baseball. In life, three strikes and you’re not out. Never give up. Never quit. At age 89, I live this principle every day.
If we are successful in becoming young leaders of honor, service, civility and perseverance, then we will leave a mark on our nation in keeping with the ultimate plans of our forefathers and our Creator.
Leadership was never meant to be for the survival of the fittest and the few, but for the finest and the all!