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.