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Stolen Honor Reclaimed

By Steve Schippert | April 24, 2006

There are days when a man feels compelled to reflect and self-evaluate. It is usually when surrounded by peers whose respectable accomplishments and character compels one to look up far more often than simply across. Saturday was one such day. One man in particular was inspirational beyond words. I will call him ‘John’.

John approached me barely a minute after my panel had left the stage in the first session of the MilBlog Conference 2006. John, whom I had never seen before, was quietly standing by the sink in the men’s room, almost motionless but for his bleary eyes following my movements as I approached the sink. “I just had to shake your hand and thank you,” he said. There seemed to be an urgency about him, perhaps explaining why he stood now in the men’s room, of all places, but leaving me completely perplexed as to why a man I had never before seen would want to thank me, of all people, with such apparent emotion.

“I want to thank you for what you have done for me.” He was now openly crying, without the usual concern one would expect with a small and unlikely room filled with men in and out of uniform, some pausing as they walked slowly by. John continued, “You and CJ restored my faith in service. You guys changed my life.”

John went on, explaining that he was a Vietnam-era veteran who had always been compelled to feel shame for his service, even though his service was spent thousands of miles from Vietnam. Only recently had he even spoken of his service directly to his own children. All of this change, apparently for something he attributed to CJ and I.

We had, through emails some time ago he reminded, convinced a reluctant John to join the MilBlog ring established by GreyHawk of The Mudville Gazette. It was for active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. And it was also for veterans like me. Veterans like you, perhaps. But definitely for veterans like John.

I cannot recall a word said in response to John. All I can recall is having no idea what to say. My lips moved and something came out, probably questioning any significance of anything said or done on my part. With John sobbing, I just hugged him, fighting tears of my own...a fight lost during the solitude of a 7-hour drive home later in the day.

For the better part of this fine man’s life, his honor and the honor of his service to this country had been stolen from him. His honor was stolen by an entire culture and its media establishment.

I did not know John. Yet, I did. He was my father. He was my Uncle Pat. He was my Uncle Rick and Uncle Ed. He was my friends Steve and Bruce and others. He was a lot of people I know and a lot of people I do not know. He was John, a Vietnam veteran, an American, a brother in arms and an honorable man whose honor had been restored. Not by me, but rather by John himself.

You see, his honor had only been stolen from view. It had always truly been there. Whatever insignificant role I or CJ (A Soldier's Perspective) may have played, it was really simply a matter of acknowledgement on John’s own part.

No one, not even an entire culture, can steal a man’s character. They can only cast an illusion.

From the very first commentary I had ever written as a blogger:

Honor is the single most important aspect of character that defines military service. Honor transcends integrity. It transcends honesty, selflessness, compassion and duty. Indeed, honor encompasses them all. Honor is a pillar of military service.

Helping my daughter with her homework one day, she asked me, “Daddy, what is honor?” I told her simply, “Honey, honor is doing the right thing…even when no one is looking.”

She got it.

It’s really no more complicated than that.

No one can ‘take’ that. John’s stolen honor had merely been shrouded. For years and years. And that is a crime.

Speaking at the MilBlog Conference 2006, I offered what I saw as the most important value of MilBlogs and MilBloggers, drawing upon the Vietnam experience of trading military victory for political defeat. Walter Cronkite led a media offensive against not only the Vietnam War, but against the military service itself. Those who doubt that should consider Cronkite’s own description later in his career.

“In the 1960’s, we were still a country shaped by World War II and a thoroughly plausible conviction that America had helped rescue the world from evil. Now, a new evil loomed. If we had lost the peace once by failing to confront Nazi aggression in Europe, we would win it now by confronting communism everywhere. Many of us, who had been young war correspondents in World War II, at the beginning of the Vietnam involvement saw a clear continuity of American purpose. The debate over Vietnam became bitter because it challenged my generation’s most important assumption of World War II: That the American power was an unwavering instrument of moral good.”

Now, according to Cronkite and all those who shared his twisted view, the battle against communism was nonsense and the military was different.

The battle was not to be against communism, but clearly against America’s own military by the sole arbiters of information flow. The battle was engaged against John.

That offensive, launched in living rooms and coffee shops from coast to coast, went unchallenged from military service members in the field. There was no mechanism nor the technology for them to rebut or directly dispute the nonsense that the Tet Offensive of 1968 spelled doom for South Vietnam and American involvement there. For, if a credentialed member of the media did not report it, it was never heard or considered.

It was this single caveat that enabled an agenda-driven media establishment to dictate the course of a war, successfully snatching political defeat from the jaws of a military victory.

It was this single caveat that enabled an agenda-driven media establishment to shroud, obscure and effectively steal the honor of honorable men like John, forever altering the course of their lives.

MilBlogs, especially those written in-theater, changed that. Permanently.

Never again will the Walter Cronkites of another day or another war have a monopoly on communication of the ground situation that could lead to disastrous manipulation.

Growing up, my grandfather was my hero. To me, he embodied all that was honorable: Hard work, honesty and humility. In him I saw no failings, perhaps simply a young grandson’s admiration, perhaps aided by a thousand miles of separation. He was successful. He worked tirelessly. He was in many ways selfless. For my grandmother, a Cadillac. For himself, a Ford Maverick.

Yet he was, I am told, human. But, to this day, I often imagine him standing behind me watching me go about my day, confronted with choices. When I do, I rarely fail. What would he think of me if I choose X? What would he think of me if I choose Y? I dare not disappoint and I still strive to please him.

While I lay no claim to superior character, I battle every day to live my life in an honorable manner. And, while I do not always win, my battle is my victory. I will never give up.

John's battle has been his victory, too. John never gave up. John never stopped living his life honorably. He had simply been convinced to hang his head in shame without due cause.

No more. Not now. Not ever.

Welcome home, John.

Reference

Listed below are links that reference Stolen Honor Reclaimed:

» Stolen Honor (Threats Watch) from Strategic Outlook Institute - Weblog
Steve from ThreatsWatch has the post of the year. If this is all that comes from the MilBlog Conference, then it was well worth the effort. I think much more will come from the conference. The liberal media has demonized the military long enough. ... [Read More]

» Why The Mil-Blogging Conference Was Important from ArmyWifeToddlerMom
I really wanted to share this. A piece written by Steve Schippert, who was on the first panel of mil-bloggers. Mild mannered, well spoken. I also see I was not the only person, that was touched by Steve's presence on the panel, as well as his blog. [Read More]

» Milbloggers With Attitude from Beltway Blogroll
Bloggers can be a critical bunch. When they don't like what they see or hear in the world around them, they let everyone within click range of their piece of the Web know it. And when they get together at... [Read More]

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16 Comments

Steve, like you I am perplexed about what I could have possibly contributed to John's change. All I know is that I also refuse to allow people to downgrade my or my predecessors service. If I am able to accomplish anything in my life, it will be this. I have a deep love for our Vietnam vets. I go out of my way to shake their hands whenever I see a hat or pin that proclaims that service. I also welcome them home.

It's stories like this that make me second guess my decision to take a blogging sabatical. Thanks for the tear jerker. Now, I need a seven hour drive.

Steve and CJ are being modest, believe me. Were it not for them, I may never have revealed, on my blog, that I was a Navy vet. (And I blog anonymously!) In fact I hardly ever did, until after I joined the Milblog ring, thanks to CJ's prodding, and felt it was OK to mention that I was a vet.

When I wrote my Memorial Day post (I never celebrated Memorial Day until last year - I'll never miss another one), Steve wrote to me and linked to me and made me feel like a million bucks.

I've never been more proud to be a vet than I was in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, April 22nd at the Milblog Conference. Steve and CJ are perfect examples of the best the military has to offer. Strong and good men who care deeply about this country and about their brothers-in-arms, who stand in the gap for those who cannot or will not serve. Today they continue to serve, leading from the front in the battle for this nation's soul. America can never repay, and you cannot purchase with treasure, the gift these men have given and continue to give to us. The best we can do is say thank you, which I now do to every military person I meet.

Never underestimate the influence you have. Milblogs are changing the world forever, especially for Vietnam era vets like me.

(For those trying to figure it out, my name is not John.)

Wow, Steve. Well done.

Steve, thank you for this article. I'll be using your definition of Honor in the future.

And, "John", thank you for your service, and welcome home. I attended a young Marine corporal's funeral in February as a member of the Patriot Guard Riders. None of us knew this young Marine, but we had all come hundreds of miles to honor him and his family. Most of the Riders were Vietnam Vets, although there were some younger fellows there also. Their emotions were right out there. Nothing like this had ever been done for their(our) generation. There were 6500 members when I attended that funeral on Feb 18. There are now over 27,000 of us and more joining every day. Our Arizona state captain has as his email signature.."Vietnam, we were winning when I left." One doesn't have to be a biker to participate either. I'm not, and I feel honored to be included. It is an awesome, awesome group. It seems to be pretty healing for a lot of the guys, too. Again, thank you for your service, and I am so, so glad that you now can see that your service was/is honorable.
Blessings to you both.

I think this may come through twice as I forgot to sign in before.

Steve, thank you for this article. I'll be using yoru defination of Honor in the future.

And, "John", thank you for your service, and welcome home. I attended a young Marine corporal's funeral in February as a member of the Patriot Guard Riders. None of us knew this young Marine, but we had all come hundreds of miles to honor him and his family. Most of the Riders were Vietnam Vets, although there were some younger fellows there also. Their emotions were right out there. Nothing like this had ever been done for their(our) generation. There were 6500 members when I attended that funeral on Feb 18. There are now over 27,000 of us and more joining every day. Our Arizona state captain has as his email signature.."Vietnam, we were winning when I left." One doesn't have to be a biker to participate either. I'm not, and I feel honored to be included. It is an awesome, awesome group. It seems to be pretty healing for a lot of the guys, too. Again, thank you for your service, and I am so, so glad that you now can see that your service was/is honorable.
Blessings to you both.

Thank you, Maggie45. I joined the Patriot Guard Riders a few minutes ago. I didn't know you could join even if you didn't own a bike.

Wow, Steve! That was awesome. This was a great followup to your equally terrific performance at the conference. I'm honored to have parked so close to you in the garage. ;)

You and CJ are real heroes!

I read a ton of blogs but somehow only arrived at yours today. I thank the internet Gods for the blessing - your post moved me. My father was a Viet Nam veteran (hero). His life was shortened as a direct result of this war -specifically his treatment upon returning home to the country he loved and served for more than 20 years. His story is one you have probably heard a million times. Mine is of a daughter who still wishes that as a young person I had given this man more credit - more respect - more honor - more time - more of everything he so deserved. Thankfully, I do believe he knew I loved him and I tried with what time we had left to show how grateful I was that he was my daddy. In his honor, from the day he passed away and for the rest of my living days, I have tried to do anything and everything I can to make some other soldier aware of my respect and gratitude. I thank you for this post. More importantly - Thank you John from the bottom of my heart. Sincerely, Julie Harris

Ah, good, I'm glad for you, John. (smile) Greatest bunch of people I've ever met. I think you'll fit right in.

Never again.

Well said.

We all brought back some amazing, life-altering experiences from the conference. From the things people said, to the things we all did as a group... it was truly a memorable experience.

Here's a hug to all of the John's out there, and a heart-felt "thank you, welcome home". You didn't deserve the treatment you got back then- and I'll be damned if I ever let that happen again.

Very powerful. I'm a firm believer that just one person can make a huge difference in somebody elses life by just being themself and doing what they do. As was mentioned at the conference, being an "Army of Davids". I'll put in a second plug for the Patriot Guard, I'm also a "cager" member of that group.

Very well done post! I was in the men's room and witnessed this incident. I didn't know how to respond to it at the time; it just hung in my mind. Your statements and the comments reminded me of how many of us from that era have been quiet; only recently rallying around the SwiftBoat Vets and the milbloggers.

You have good insight and say well what you feel and think. Thanks and keep up the good work.

I remember the Marines who humped the hills of the Kalayaan Housing in Subic Bay in 1972. Us kids stood on the curb and saluted them (as seven and eight year olds do), they, to us, were bigger than life...

I remember the chaos of the time, and the frightful events of April, 1975, when my Dad called my Mom at about eight thirty and told her that he wouldn't be home for a while, because everybody at SRF Subic Bay was scrambling to prep for the arrival of refugees fleeing what was once South Vietnam.

I remember hearing, repeated time after time "We lost Viet Nam"... And wondering how we could have lost a fight from which we withdrew two years prior...

Now, I watch as those with "the power" try to pull another Vietnam style defeatist agenda... But now I can do something about it. Hell, I DID something about it...

Never again...

Welcome home, John. Welcome home to all of you who returned to a homeland that turned its back on you... You were always heroes to us, from the time a couple of seven year old kids stood on a sidewalk and saluted and gawked at you as you marched past, all the way to now...

Welcome home!!!

Your post is awesome and I have to agree with "john" that you and CJ (and all of the other panelists, excluding myself) had so many important, profound, distinguished, etc. things to say. I wish I would have made the point to talk to you more at the conference. I think your experience w/ "john" was one of many to come for many military people (past and present)that will help others in the world re-connect with who they are. Your story made my eyes leak (that's what my dad calls crying... :)

As others have said, Welcome Home, John! May you never lose your "self" again (that sounded kinda cheesy, but I think you get my point).

God Bless!

A superb commentary. And for the record, it looks as if Zarqawi and bin Laden have admitted defeat in Iraq.