You are being discharged from the Army today — from your Army. It is your Army because your skill, patriotism, labor, courage, and devotion have been some of the factors which make it great. You have been a member of the finest military team in history. You have accomplished miracles and battle and supply. Your country is proud of you and you have every right to be proud of yourselves.
You have seen, in the lands where you worked and fought and where many of your comrades died, what happens when the people of a nation lose interest in their government. You have seen what happens when they follow false leaders. You have seen what happens when a nation accepts hate and intolerance ...
That's the beginning of a letter written in 1945 by General Jonathan Wainwright, a Medal of Honor winner and survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II. He was also present on the USS Missouri when Japan signed the letter of surrender. Wainwright sent the letter to the soldiers he commanded as they were being discharged at the end of the war. It was circulating on social media — as everything must, these days — on Monday, Veterans Day.
At 6:30 Tuesday morning, I watched out my kitchen window as my stepson headed Downtown to his job. He was bundled up like a Siberian. That's because he works in homeless outreach, driving a golf cart around, dispensing coffee, checking on the needs of folks living on the street. It was 19 degrees, windy, and snowing. I suspect Roman handed out some coffee to a shivering veteran or two.
We are all determined that what happened in Europe and in Asia must not happen to our country. Back in civilian life you will find that your generation will be called upon to guide our country's destiny. Opportunity for leadership is yours. The responsibility is yours. The nation which depended on your courage and stamina to protect it from its enemies now expects you as individuals to claim your right to leadership, a right which you earned honorably and which is well deserved ...
On Monday, a few-dozen veterans gathered to celebrate the holiday in a nondescript building called "the Bunker" in Tijuana, Mexico. They were former U.S. servicemen, including some combat veterans, who had been deported from the United States after their service to this country. Most of them were separated from their families, hoping to return to the U.S. after their mostly ignored applications for re-entry are resolved.
Choose your leaders wisely — that is the way to keep ours the country for which you fought. Make sure that those leaders are determined to maintain peace throughout the world. You know what war is. You know that we must not have another. As individuals you can prevent it if you give to the task which lies ahead the same spirit which you displayed in uniform ...
On Monday, many people I know posted pictures of their fathers, husbands, wives, and other family members who had served this country in uniform. And that's a good thing, honoring those who've put their lives on the line to help preserve this fragile, troubled democracy.
On Monday, our national leaders gave the usual speeches filled with hoary cliches about honoring those who served. But all too often there are exclusions, based on politics, self-interest, and self-aggrandizement. We need to honor all our veterans, including POWs who "were captured," veterans who testify under oath before Congress, veterans who are immigrants, veterans of all faiths, veterans who were wrongly deported, veterans living in an alley in Downtown Memphis.
Start being a leader as soon as you put on your civilian clothes. If you see intolerance and hate, speak out against them. Make your individual voices heard, not for selfish things, but for honor and decency among men, for the rights of all people.
Accept that trust and challenge which it carries. I know that the people of America are counting on you. I know that you will not let them down. Goodbye to each and every one of you and to each and every one of you, good luck!
Nearly 75 years later, General Wainwright's words still ring true. They are well worth remembering the next time you hear someone say "thank you for your service." The country could certainly use some of that "honor and decency among men" he mentioned. And some of that good luck.