Win Harper | Life and Leadership Coach

Remembering the Home of the Brave.


This September we celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s writing of our National Anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner.  He penned the words to his poem while watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812 – sometimes called the Second War for American Independence.  We had a hard time getting the British out of our country.

As he watched “the bombs bursting in air” he captured the essence of America when he wrote,  “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  We are the “Land of the Free” because we are “The Home of the Brave.”  You can’t have one without the other.  The two are inseparable:  We are the land of the Free because our constitution guarantees us the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We earned them and maintain them because we are the Home of the Brave; the men and women who sacrificed everything to ensure our freedom.

And, those are the men and women we have gathered here today to remember and to honor.  The young men and women who made a commitment to us when they swore an oath “to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”  When they enlisted they also made a deeper commitment to their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen, National Guardsmen, and Marines.  This commitment among those who serve is unbreakable, and it is the reason men and women fight in combat.

What is that commitment and how deep is it?

Last October, I drove down to the Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia for a dedication of a plaque in remembrance of the 45 men from my 1966 Officer Candidate Class who were killed in Vietnam.

On the Plaque are these words:

“We remember them, our fellow brothers, as warriors of the greater good, as courageous and gentle souls.  We remember them so willing to give their energy, their passion, and their life for our beloved country.”

I especially remember Pat Gallagher, Bill Jerro, and Don Perkins.  Pat Gallagher was from the Bronx, and was in my training platoon.  He was a rifle platoon commander in Vietnam, and earned the Silver Star the day he was killed in 1967.  Bill Jerro, we called him Jimney Cricket because he could make the sound of a cricket was from Brooklyn, NY.  He was killed his third day in Vietnam - 1967.  Don Perkins, from the Chicago area.  We went to Fort Sill together, and played a lot of basketball there.  He was an heir to the Kool-Aid fortune.  He was killed at Hue in 1968. We talked about what we were going to do when we returned from Vietnam, we shared our hopes and dreams.  I remember those details and wonder what the world could have been like if these men had not been lost.

What is that commitment and how deep is it?

I watched a documentary about the Men who survived the sinking of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.  1177 sailors and Marines lost their lives on the ship; 337 survived.  Some of the survivors, who are now in their late 80s and early 90s, have made arrangements upon their passing to be cremated and their ashes be returned to the ship.  The National Park Service holds a ceremony after the memorial is closed and scuba divers take the urns and place them into the USS Arizona in order that these men, so far 34, are able to spend eternity with their shipmates!

What is that commitment and how deep is it?

In our brotherhood and sisterhood of the Brave, we are committed to not leave a fallen comrade on the battlefield, whether they are wounded or dead. Two men recently earned the Medal of Honor for their actions in Afghanistan: Sergeant Dakota Meyer of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha (ROE MUH SHAY) of the U.S. Army.  The Medal of Honor is the highest award earned for valor in action against an enemy force.  Both their citations tell of how these men repeatedly exposed themselves to enemy fire to rescue other battlefield combatants:  Sgt Meyer “Still under heavy enemy fire, he dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to locate and recover the bodies of his team members.”  Sgt Romesha moved“under overwhelming enemy fire to recover and prevent the enemy fighters from taking the bodies of his fallen comrades.” Jake Tapper interviewed Sergeant Romesha on TV.  Mr. Tapper’s voice was filled with awe and disbelief when he asked, “Why was it so important to get the bodies.”  Sergeant Romesha replied choking back tears that he knew the parents wanted closure; he knew they wanted to see their sons one last time.  He added that we will not leave someone behind – never!

The Bible says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Many of us in the military are still reluctant to speak about love of our brothers and sisters in arms, but it is love, a love without ending. And, that commitment, that love, is why men and women fight in combat: to protect our fellow soldiers and to bring everyone home.

And, that commitment does not end with our active service. As Veterans, we join the VFW, the American Legion, the Marine Corps League, and we go to reunions of our units.  I meet once a month for lunch with local Marines.

And we remember, we remember the day we enlisted, our Drill Instructors names, the day we graduated from boot camp, and all of our duty stations.  We fly the American Flag and the MIA flag, we put decals on our cars, we wear baseball caps, we stand at attention when the American Flag is passing by, we put our hands over our hearts when we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and we sing the words to the National Anthem.  When taps is played; we cry. We cry because we remember our friends, our comrades in arms, their names, their stories, their dreams, their hopes, and their sacrifice. We cry for our brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives for us.  We have never forgotten them, and we never will.  That is why we are the Home of The Brave.

And, what do the Home of the Brave want?  They want to be remembered!  They want to know that their sacrifice was worthwhile and appreciated.

And, that is the purpose of this Day – to remember. To remember and honor all the men and women who swore an oath to support and defend our constitution, and remember how that constitution guarantees us the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Remember these liberties, and think about the sacrifice our military men and women made so we can remain free.

Today walk through our cemeteries; our Boy Scouts have put US Flags on every Veteran’s grave. Visit our Wall of Honor here in Rushville History Room, it is open today; there are photos of over 600 local veterans, and there is one special area dedicated to the 29 local men who died in the service to our country.  Men from every one of our wars, men like, Joseph Granes who died at Pearl Harbor, Ward Fleishman, and Clair Wells who died at Normandy, Charles Potter – Korea, Joseph Valesko – Vietnam to name just a few.  Names most of us don’t know, but who are our heroes – who helped make our country the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  Janet Read, our Senior Citizen, is wearing a picture of each one these heroes.

Remember the husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and other family members of our fallen heroes, and think about how for them everyday is Memorial Day.

How can we remember and honor these heroes tomorrow, next week, next month? We can do so by teaching future generations, our young girls and boys, about our history, and the sacrifices made by our home of the brave for our land of the free. Tell them the stories of these men, and, what they did for us.  Teach the children about duty, honor, courage, commitment, and country. Tell them about the young men and women who today are in harm’s way ensuring our Freedoms. Teach them what sacrifice means, and that Freedom is not Free!  Tell them that in order for us to remain the land of the free we must remain the home of the brave.

And remember to thank our home of the brave, the active duty service members and veterans for their commitment to keep our country the “land of the free” – Simply look them in the eye, and say, “Thank you for your service.”  It will make them, you, our community and nation feel better and be stronger.

As a veteran, I speak on behalf of all veterans, thank you for your support, today and everyday.  And may God bless you, and God bless America!

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Copyright 2009 by Win Harper.