“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the baddest mother in the whole damn valley.” Various
He volunteered for a dangerous intelligence-gathering mission, caring not for his own safety, but thinking only of the success of the American Revolution. By the standards of the time, spying was automatically punishable by death, yet, despite that knowledge, he moved out. On September 12, 1776, he was ferried to New York with the goal of smuggling troop actions and military secrets from the British to the Americans. During the course of his mission, New York City fell to the British, forcing General George Washington and his men to retreat to the northern tip of the island. The American spy was truly alone when the Great New York Fire of 1776 broke out on September 21, 1776. There are multiple accounts of his capture, but however it happened, he was taken prisoner on that evening. The British were swift in carrying out his death sentence, and yet even they were forced to admit to his courage and composure. According to a British Captain, “he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity.” More than one British soldier present that day remarked on his bravery, and when he was taken to the gallows to be hanged, he stood tall, faced the crowd, and delivered what was to become one of the most deservedly famous lines of the American Revolution:
“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
His name was Captain Nathan Hale, and on September 22, 1776, he was hanged to death for the crime of protecting America. He was, and always will be, the epitome of the American soldier.
What makes a great American soldier (or sailor, or Marine)? There are reams of psychological studies and reports proving science’s attempt to define not only the soldier, but The One. What are the traits and qualities that make a man Special Operation Forces (SOF)? Why does The One became an Army Ranger, a Delta Force operator, or a Navy SEAL? Why are some among us not only willing but able to write a blank check for this country, up to and including the price of their own lives? Science will never answer these questions, because science has a simple yet utter failing: logic. Science may have the ability to measure the size and function of a man’s heart, but it cannot know its depths. There are no graphs and charts for the realities of bravery, the reasons men such as Capt. Nathan Hale, Sgt. Michael Strank, Lt. Col. Peter Dewey, Cpl. Pat Tillman, and all those lost during Operation Red Wings did what they did. And yet we cannot help but wonder what sets them apart.
“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” frequently credited to Winston Churchill, also to George Orwell
We as Americans should be endlessly and unutterably grateful for the actions of our soldiers. And yet, in the typical fashion of one given to an overabundance of words (see?), here it goes.
The One stands ready to do things the average citizen would not only recoil from but be too terrified to carry out. And while the leftists and pacifists wring their hands and decry the violence of war, they could not live free in America without it. America stands today as the country with the greatest freedoms on earth entirely due to the efforts of those willing to fight for Her. And while some citizens shy from squashing a spider, each and every one of us, man, woman, or child, must understand the necessity of violence. Without a proper defense, this country would not stand. And without those willing to take up arms and fight for Her – for each and every one of you – this country would not stand. Be thankful for the aptitude for violence The One possesses.
“No guts, no glory.” Major General Frederick C. Blesse
The One has an inner strength not many men possess. That strength, sadly, tends to come at a high price. It is not the strength of an athlete – although such durability is certainly needed – and it is not the strength of a scholar, although quick-thinking is a useful tool in combat. The spark that lights and heats the spirit of the great American soldiers holds a certain indescribable power. It gives them the ability to face the enemy with a snarl rather than a step back, and gifts them with the will to battle on when others would simply give up. The One keeps fighting, even when he has been shot, thrown off a mountain, shot again, and mortally wounded. If you don’t believe it, ask Marcus Luttrell.
“All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
The One knows the meaning of self-sacrifice. He sees the wrong, the evil, around him, and instead of looking around waiting for someone else to handle it, he runs towards it. He does so knowing the price is, if not his life, perhaps his soul. Self-sacrifice means charging into battle when sane men would flee. The self-sacrifice of a great soldier knows no bounds and cannot be categorized or boxed in by words alone. The One all too often sacrifices, and gives, and spends his spirit and strength until there is nothing left. And then, he reaches down, and sacrifices all over again.
"American soldiers in battle don’t fight for what some president says on T.V. They don’t fight for mom, apple pie, the American flag. They fight for one another.” LTC Hal Moore, CMDR 1/7 Cav, la Drang Valley, Vietnam
The One is part of a band of brothers. The tie of brotherhood in the military not only withstands the test of sweat, tears, blood, tempers, and combat but thrives on them all. It cannot be truly explained or understood by those not a part of it. The bonds forged between these men are unbreakable, unyielding, and everlasting. And it has a value above all else, because when The One returns from combat, he needs his brothers. Without them, he may fall, despite his inner strength and power. Perhaps that is because that power is typically generated for and utilized for the protection of others rather than self. And perhaps that is the greatest power of the brotherhood: gaining strength from your brother when you have none to spare for yourself.
“They have us surrounded. The poor b*****ds!” 101st Airborne Trooper at Bastogne, Belgium, 1944
The One has an ego. Yes, it’s true, for all the silly Harlequins portraying him as tough yet tender, brave yet unsure, and bold yet hesitant, he has an ego. And wouldn’t you, if you’d successfully fought for our country, beat back the enemy single-handedly and saved the lives of the innocent, and your brothers, on numerous occasions? Enough said.
“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.” Patrick Henry, 23 March, 1775
The One is a patriot. He does not see liberty or the American flag as something to be lauded for personal gain or only on holidays and at baseball games. He believes deep down the things this great nation was founded on are worth fighting for. He may or may not agree with what is going on in the world today, but he believes these basic rights and freedoms should be protected at great personal cost. There is no greater patriot than those willing to fight for this country, and certainly none greater than The One who goes into battle armed with nothing more than a hunk of automated metal and an attitude that would give the Grim Reaper chills, hell bent for leather.
“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” Heraclitus
The One is a warrior, a Spartan, and we lose him all too often. Sometimes we lose him in battle, and sometimes after, and sometimes he is lost while still physically with us. The military veterans of the United States Armed Forces not only deserve but have earned our gratitude and respect, whether they carried out their service stateside or in combat. Those who would protest against our service members would do well to remember the words of our first president, General George Washington, in a letter to Governor Dinwiddie on 29 May, 1754: “Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude!”
As to the original question, what makes a great American soldier, sailor, or Marine? What makes The One? Heart. And for that heart, for the violence, vigilance, self-sacrifice, ego, patriotism, bravery, and courage, they are to be treasured. For without them, we would not enjoy the freedoms many take so for granted today. To all who have served, who have fought, who have fallen, thank you.
“The Spartans do not inquire how many the enemy are, but where they are.” Agis II, 427 B.C.
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