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Veterans’ Day Message 2016
by Brantley "Buddy" Smith
Assistant Director of Schools and USMC, retired
Good morning and thank you for inviting me to your school and to this celebration of Veterans. I am honored to be here among you and among these veterans.
The first thing I would like to briefly talk about on this Veterans Day is what I call the Kapernick Effect. Colin Kapernick is a backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who has decided, for reasons known only to him, that the flag of the United States of America is a symbol of racism and oppression. To express his displeasure, he takes a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before games. Others, from high school students to college students, to other players in major league sports have jumped on this bandwagon. They clearly have the right to do this under the Constitution. I respectfully disagree with their views and their actions. Having had the opportunity to travel the world, I can tell you firsthand that the vast majority of the rest of the world sees the Stars and Stripes as a symbol of freedom and of liberation from tyranny.
That said, it is because of our veterans that we have the right to protest. Ironically, those probably most offended by these actions are the very ones responsible for securing the Constitutional freedoms that allow Americans to speak freely and exercise freedom of expression. You want to be disrespectful to the flag of the United States? Feel free to do so without consequences. Its legal and its protected. Then, thank a veteran for that right.
Of course, exercising your rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression does not necessarily make your actions proper or honorable. Exercising your rights responsibly is a function of character, understanding, and respect for the rights of others.
The freedoms we enjoy in this country under the Constitution have endured for over two centuries and serve as the yardstick by which Democracy is measured around the world. Two reasons they have been so enduring, and we as a nation so admired, are the fact we have been so selfless and sacrificing in our defense of them and because we, as a people, have always understood that with great freedom comes great responsibility. I repeat, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Many veterans have sacrificed greatly to secure these freedoms. We have an obligation to exercise them responsibly.
Veterans have had a profound, and positive, influence on my life since the day I was born. My grandfathers were both WW I veterans. My father was a WW II veteran. My father-in law is a Korean War veteran. After college I joined the military and most of the men who trained me were Vietnam veterans. I served 24 years surrounded by veterans. So, what have I learned?
I’ve learned about habits. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.
Watch your Thoughts; they become Words.
Watch your Words; they become Actions.
Watch your Actions; they become Habits.
Watch your Habits; they become Character.
Watch your Character; it becomes your Destiny.
I’ve learned about selfless service and sacrifice. I’ve learned to care more about my responsibilities than my rights. Jackie Robinson said, “A life isn’t significant except for its impact on other lives”.
I’ve learned to respect the rights of all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background. You see, courage comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders.
I’ve learned perseverance and hard work. Admiral Bill McCraven, US Navy Seal, said, “If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.” In other words, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
I’ve learned that humility is a virtue and arrogance is an ugly character trait.
I’ve learned about leadership. I learned the keys to successful leadership: Integrity, Intiative, and Inspiration.
I’ve learned that you don’t have to be in the military to serve your country and make it better.
I continue to learn from the youngest and latest generation of veterans, the 9/11 generation of young men and women. These are the veterans of the Global War on Terrorism. They are your brothers and sisters, your parents, other family members, your teachers. These are folks you have known all or much of your young lives. What have you learned from them? When was the last time you thanked them for being there for you?
We are a Nation rich in military heroes. Throughout our history, from the Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism, our legacy is one of extraordinary Americans performing great deeds under dire circumstances. So many of our countrymen have laid down their lives and suffered grievous wounds for us, and so many today are prepared to do the same. We are thankful for the dedication, courage, and service of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coast Guardsmen. Never let us forget the legacy and sacrifice of those who choose to go in harm’s way in service to our country, our families, and our way of life.
Got Freedom? Thank a veteran. Then, thank a teacher. You see, veterans provide an environment for freedom to prosper. Teachers provide the tools you need to make freedom a reality.