Everything about Afghanistan has confirmed my strong conviction that sacrifice, duty, and leadership count. God bless the families of fallen service men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice and those who have paid the last full measure of devotion. The latest casualties strike at the core of what makes America great because their mission was humanitarian. They were there in Kabul to rescue and evacuate. May their memories encourage us, and inspire us to be like Jesus who gave his all so that we might live, and in life itself was willing to wash the disciples’ feet. Lord, have mercy, we plead and pray.
Lord, give strength and comfort to all those who have given of themselves in all of our battles, especially against illnesses like COVID, injustice, terrorism and every infraction against the Golden Rule. Help our teachers, parents, nurses, doctors, caregivers, hospice workers, firefighters, police, EMS, first responders, last responders, and, of course, our brave service men and women who serve in harm’s way. All of these are for whom the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” are eerily appropriate today.
That charge at the 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War by the British was heroic, but disastrous because of miscommunication, but they did their duty nevertheless. It reads:
Theirs was not to make reply,
Theirs was not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Duty, honor, and sacrifice are the by-product of leadership in families, schools, churches, and town halls on up to the highest reaches of government. We are a chain, only as strong as the weakest link, and the crucibles we’ve been facing have proven the mettle of our leaders and found it either worthy or not. The history books are the final arbiters. There will be applause and pundits in the meantime. The best leadership is gauged not by polls, but purpose.
For instance, I have been reading about Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., often called, “The Toughest Man in World War II.” He and his family were keen on purpose. His father was President Theodore Roosevelt of San Juan Hill and Roughrider fame who proposed that prudence demands that freedom-loving people, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” President Teddy Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin, was shot down and died in World War I. Another son, Kermit, served in World War I and II. Son, Archie, retired from the military after being shot in the knee in World War I, but insisted on coming back for World War II. He served in the Pacific Theater, was wounded again and received the Silver Star with three oak-leaf clusters. Ted, Jr. led the D-Day invasion as a part of the first wave at Utah Beach.
Why so much dedication to fight for their country? Their father, President Teddy Roosevelt, modeled and instilled a mindset of duty and military obligation. So, no wonder Ted, Jr. was the highest-ranking American officer on the invasion beaches. He was warned against it, but he replied that his troops needed him.
One author, K.S. Bruce, sums it up with this account: “Imagine it is D-Day, June 6, 1944, and you are a young private hitting Utah Beach in the very first wave, into the teeth of the German army, against a rainfall of enemy gunfire, artillery shrapnel and gore. You are filled with fear, and there on the beach in front of you, stands an old man. An American brigadier general – bull-frog voiced, pop-eyed, 5-foot-8 inches tall and directing the troops with his cane. Calm as a man can be in combat, he is Ted Roosevelt, Jr. At age 56 with bad arthritis, he had volunteered to be on the landing boats in order to give the young troops reassurance and to arm them with his same fortitude and courage, and he did exactly that. When he realizes he and his men are a mile from their designated drop-off point, he calmly looked at a map while dodging bullets and opined, ‘We’ll start the war from here.’”
Now, how’s that for leadership? In 5 weeks, he would be dead from a heart attack, but not without first leading his men ashore. His own son, Quentin, named after Ted, Jr.’s brother who was killed in World War I, was also in the first wave on D-Day, only to die some time later. How many invasions had this privileged son of a President been in that he, no doubt, could have escaped? Basically, all of them. As a combat officer in the 26th Regiment of the First Division (The “Big Red One”) during World War I, Ted, Jr. helped lead the Americans into France. In 1941, he was back again to help lead the same regiment in the amphibious invasion of North Africa in World War II. He battled into Sicily, and he was with the Fourth Division at D-Day.
For his bravery on Utah Beach, General Ted Roosevelt, Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor. His father, President Theodore Roosevelt, also received one for his leadership and bravery on San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. They, along with Arthur and Douglas McArthur, are the only father and sons to ever both win a Medal of Honor. Ted, Jr. is buried in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, alongside his younger brother, Quentin, who was killed in World War I. Leadership’s ripple effect spreads far and wide. Its lack does, too.
Oh, how we need leaders today. God help all of those trying to do their best to emulate duty, honor, and sacrifice in our battles both at home and abroad: in classrooms, boardrooms, family rooms, hospital rooms, and in the continued fight against all that is not of God everywhere. May it be said of us, we pray. Amen.