Words & Pictures & Sacred Honor
So I got the email from my friend Wally, about Doug Todd’s article on his website at talkinfreedom.com. Now, Wally and Doug are Brothers of mine, Marines who also served in Vietnam and whose battalion my helicopter squadron supported, the always hard-fighting, hard-luck First Battalion of the Ninth Marine Regiment (1/9), the Walking Dead. I’m telling you, these Marines learned the cost of freedom the REAL hard way. Most Marines only have to learn the HARD way. Anyway, when I got Wally’s email and got the link, I was right there. Doug has a way with words that I would stack up against ANYONE else, even me, your never to be humble correspondent. So as soon as I read what you will be privileged to read momentarily, I was on the phone to Doug and got his blessing to make it part of this column. He gave me the go-ahead, so let me introduce Doug Todd, Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps. He’s writing to veterans, in the main, with the references to the Oath we took to protect and defend our Constitution (and by extension, the American People), so if you’re a non-veteran keep that in mind.
Words & Pictures & Sacred Honor
A Veteran's Pledge
I dreamed that dream again last night. That same old dream I have dreamed so many times down the years – same picture – same jumbled up mess of words and feelings – waking in the same cold sweat to the knowledge that I would not sleep any more tonight.
In this dream I always see the same picture but I wake thinking of the words and the picture is usually just background.
Words are important to me. Words mean things. I have always been impressed by the words we started with (as a country, I mean) “We hold these truths…” and you know the rest of it right down to that part about Divine Providence and the pledge of “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident” – by my seventeenth year I had read them so many times I could read them with my eyes (and the book) closed.
In that year we had a young President who spoke other words – words that were, in their own way, just as impressive. Yes I know they were not his words but were written for him by a man named Sorensen who was paid to write – but he made them seem to be his own.
He may have been somewhat less “Great” than some of us believed him to be at the time; he may have been a womanizer and other things he has been accused of but, on that cold and snow-covered January morning he was the man who took Mr. Sorensen’s words and made them live!
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge--and more.”
Something reminded me of that other pledge of “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor” and I felt then that anyone hearing these words as he delivered them with such clarity and conviction – such force – would know immediately that these too were words that would be remembered and repeated long into the future.
Many of us (I mean us old Veterans) were young then and idealistic and some of his words (Liberty – Freedom – Democracy) left a good taste in our mouths. Some of us seemed to know instinctively that we held the future in our young hands and that we could shape it into something better than the world had ever seen before!
Some of us pledged our own “Lives and Fortunes” holding up our right hands and swearing our oath:
I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
These were the words we started with – words written for us by someone whose name we didn’t know – but we made them our words. The words we started with when we were such young men (boys becoming men) and setting out to change the world.
We tried. We took up our burden, we fought where they sent us to fight and did what we could do to assure the survival and success of Liberty. Some of us lived through it and are still here in a “Future” that none of us could have imagined.
I dreamed that dream again last night. It was the same dream although some of the details were slightly altered.
In this dream I always see a picture of a young man in uniform – he is emerging from a rice paddy carrying a body (his best friend I always think) across his chest. A heavy blanket of smoke hangs over the whole scene but there is a thin place in the smoke where you can see a helicopter hovering over a tree line behind him. He is of indeterminate age; in that time and in that place young men became old men very quickly. The body is cradled in his arms with the face turned away from me so that I can’t even see what he may have looked like. There is a lot of blood.
The young man’s face is turned slightly skyward and the smoke and grime that covers it are streaked with what must be tears. He wears a flak-jacket with no shirt under it so that the bulge of his biceps is clearly visible. He may have been a weight lifter or an athlete in some other life in some other far away world. The over-all look is simply inexpressible anguish.
The words are there almost like a caption but now they are a question; “Any Price? Any Burden?”
Could he have known? Back on that cold January day so long ago could he have known it would come to this?
Could they have known when they pledged their “several lives and fortunes” that it would always come to this? That it would always be two strong young friends – one to pay the price and one to bear the burden? Did they know, did anyone/everyone ever/always know?
Could we have known? Could we -- maybe if we had been less idealistic, if we had felt less invincible, if we had not been so sure that the future was ours to shape and to mold and that we could leave the world better than we found it?
If we could have known – would the words have been the same?
Now that we do know, now that we have lived through it and know beyond any doubt that it will always come to the same place – where does that leave us now?
What of that Pledge we pledged – that Oath we swore?
I dreamed that dream again last night but this time it ended differently. In this dream (always before) I am standing on slightly higher ground at the edge of a paddy and he comes toward me with his friend’s body in his arms and that look of unspeakable anguish on his face. I can’t say anything to him. I have no words to speak. The only words I can find are questions “These truths? Our lives and fortunes? Any price, any burden?”. As I continue to wake slowly I realize that it is only a dream and that I am not standing at the edge of the paddy (or anywhere) but am lying on my back in bed and the picture is slowly dissolving in the darkness above me. The words are a jumbled mess of The Declaration, The Inaugural and The Oath and they are the last to go and before I am fully awake and aware that I will not be able to go back to sleep.
This time was different. He has never looked at me before but this time he made eye contact. He looked straight at me and nodded “Yes”. I was jolted out of bed.
Yes! I knew instantly what he meant and knew that he was absolutely right! Yes! They were right – the words we started with. They were right and they still mean what they always said!
The pledge still holds – the Oath is still binding! We still hold these truths to be self-evident! We still pledge our several lives and fortunes!
Yes! "Bearing True Faith & Allegiance” to the one who died in our arms and to the countless others who died in other arms on other fields of fire. Keeping faith with those who still wake feeling the weight of his body in their arms and the grief of his death in their hearts…
The pledge still holds… our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to assure the survival and the success of Liberty – let the word go forth from this time and place -- that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe… to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
This much we pledge-- and more – so help us God!