This Memorial Day is a little different for me than Memorial Days in the past. On past Memorial Days, I would think of my friends who gave their lives in service of this great nation. There were many of them, too many. Memorial Day and Veterans Day for me is usually a sad time, but always a celebration of their lives.
This Memorial Day, I give tribute to my students of the Summer term last year.
You know who you are.
For the readers who don’t know who they are, let me introduce them, in the broadest sense, sparing them any embarrassment.
First, let me say these women and men are the future of our great nation. They proved themselves by joining up to serve their country and in doing so, became brothers and sisters to many who had done the same before them. Many of my students faced the heat of the desert and have passed the test of fire by battle.
They came from all branches of the military; some were Marines, others served in the Air Force, a few were petty officers from the Navy, and there was some Army green in the class.
All had done their duty, spent their time in hell.
Now, this group of young veterans were trying to finish as much of their training as possible before the cutbacks of August 2011. And this is how they came to be together in my class in the Summer of ’11.
On the first day of class, I walked into a classroom filled to capacity. The typical load during the summer is between 20 and 25 students. On this first day, a student sat in each of the 36 seats. And all but four students were veterans.
There was the usual pre-class banter taking place as I walked to the podium. I fired up the computer and when I started calling the roll, something wonderful happened. The class immediately became silent, “locked up” in military jargon, and each woman or man immediately answered when they heard their name. I finished the roll call in record time for the first day of class.
I was amused. My four civilian students had no choice. They fell into step with the military vets, who by nature, were doing what the military does naturally—leading by example.
This was a different kind of class and I had a sense that every vet in the class was on a mission. They were there to learn. This group definitely had the situation under control. On their own.
This class handled their learning as any other military maneuver. They came in, observed, planned, and executed. They instinctively knew what they had to do, how the plan had to be executed, and just did it.
From my days in the military, there is much I miss. I miss flying formation, dogfighting, and dropping weapons. I miss the foreign ports. But what I miss more than anything else were the fine men and women who served as sailors, and in particular, those who served as my sailors. These were the men and women working in the shops I managed as a young junior officer. I miss them—a lot.
I regarded those sailors from my days in the Navy, as I regard my class of the Summer 2011—they are the finest and the brightest America has to offer.
My soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Air Force personnel of the summer a year ago will stay with me for the rest of my life. I will not forget them.
I also believe they are going to accomplish more than the average college graduate of this decade. I cannot wait to see the magnitude of their triumphs. I have no doubt they will do extremely well throughout their lives.
I will again, this Memorial Day, celebrate the military service of others; their triumphs, their sacrifices, and their lives. I will pay homage to my students who survived their time in the war against terror.
And I will remember the lives of my friends who did not survive their time in service.
Bravo Zulu to you all.
©2012 J. Clark
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