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To the heroes among us...

Published in Blog on November 10, 2023 by Jakob Fay

On January 20, 1981, at 12 noon, President Ronald Reagan faced the nation from the West Front of the Capitol and memorialized the then all-but-forgotten life of one American hero—“Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small town barbershop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire."

“We're told that on his body was found a diary,” the president continued. “On the flyleaf under the heading, ‘My Pledge,’ he had written these words: ‘America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.’”

For generations, grateful men and women have searched in vain for the words to express our gratitude to the heroes who have served in our military. And while men like Reagan, in reciting Treptow’s words, have perhaps come close, we know we can never truly thank them enough. As President Abraham Lincoln might say, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should try. But though the world should little note nor long remember what we say about them, it can never forget what they did.

It can never forget, Reagan said, what they did at “Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and… Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.” It can never forget the patriots who refused to throw down their arms at Lexington or those who crossed the Delaware 247 Christmases ago; those who enlisted after 9/11 and those who serve in the United States Armed Forces today; the Marines, pilots, sailors, medics, infantrymen, combat engineers, tank drivers, privates, and generals. It can never forget the time, fortune, blood, sweat, and tears they poured out in service to their country.

And why not? Not because we are particularly good at remembering or honoring them (sadly, we fail miserably at it). No, it’s because our whole world—our whole existence—was and is shaped by them. Their gift to us is inescapable. I can say with confidence that every American alive today has a reason to be grateful for our veterans. Our world isn’t perfect, of course—but it would be a whole lot worse if not for them. In America, we enjoy bounties—bounties of freedoms, privileges, and pleasures—because of the brave few who felt and lived as Martin Treptow did.

These men and women did not set out for accolades, and many never received any. But in joining the illustrious 41 million who have served in our armed forces, they immortalized themselves. History may not remember their names or stories. But for them, that never was what it was about. Fighting for one’s country is not always about standing in the spotlight. In fact, it rarely is. Historians have captured and memorialized a few great men; legions more hide in impenetrable obscurity. What matters is that they did the deed—they were the men in Theodore Roosevelt’s arena.

“It is not the critic who counts,” he said,” not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Men and women like that are rare. Yet, in the storied chronicles of our military, they exist in great multitudes.

“[U]ncommon valor was a common virtue,” said Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of those who served on Iwo Jima. But perhaps this has been true of our soldiers in every conflict, in every generation, and at every crossroads. To each of our veterans, we say: uncommon valor runs deep in our heritage because of men and women like you. In some way, at some point, the issue of the whole nation’s survival depended on you alone. And you rose to the challenge—you did not let us down.

And now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to take the torch you have thus far so nobly carried and to join with Lincoln in resolving that your sacrifices will not be in vain, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We cannot rival the price you paid. But believe us, we will not let it go to waste.

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