The object of Veterans Day is two fold. First, it is to honor those that have served their fellow Americans in the military. The best way to do this, is the second part: understanding veterans. Learning about their culture, and the set of priorities and feelings that make them who they are and make them do what they do. It is only by understanding veterans that we can ever hope to return their service, and do what is best for them. I think the best way that I can help people understand veterans is through one of the most prominent aspects of military culture: mottos. Every branch has at least one. Every unit has one emblazoned on their insignia. Some pay homage to the history of the unit, while some are simply bravado intended to instill unit pride and cohesion. By examining these mottos, we get a glimpse into the beliefs and the motivations of military culture, and thusly, our veterans.
Now, as you all know, I am a Marine. Therefore, my favorite mottos are going to come from the Marine Corps. And I will save the best for last. I will, start with my second favorite branch, the United States Navy.
In the Navy, they say, “Forged By the Sea.” Navy sailors are extremely proud of their heritage. They will never forget the legacy of the Navy, and all of the sailors that came before them, and allowed them to partake in the honor of that legacy. And they will use the responsibility of upholding that legacy to drive them to heroic deeds.
In the Coast Guard, they say, Semper Paratus, which translates to “always ready.” This denotes the coast guard’s penchant for diligent preparation. They train constantly to become better, because they know, even though they hope it will never happen, that one day their services will be required, and the stakes of that requirement will be of the utmost importance.
In the Army, they say, “This We’ll Defend,” expressing the desire of soldiers to be protectors of their country and their loved ones. There is no greater purpose in the mind of soldiers than to protect the people they care about. Which is why they happily lay down their lives when needed.
In the Air Force, they say, “Aim High.” You see, Air Force airmen always strive to live up to their highest potential. Because they cannot afford to accept anything less than their best effort when the lives of their fellow airmen and servicemembers depend on their skills.
And finally, my favorite, the Marine Corps. I think many of you will already know what we Marines say. Semper Fidelis. Always faithful. Two words that characterize the most powerful force in the world. Two words that have been imbued in every Marine since 1883. This motto denotes two of the most potent aspects of military culture: loyalty and trust. It is these two qualities that allow Marines to fight harder and longer than anyone else, making them the greatest fighting force in the world. Marines learn from day one in boot camp that their fellow Marines rely on them, and that they can rely on their fellow Marines. To train hard for them, to fight harder, and to die for them. This trust between one another forms a bond that is unbreakable, and leads to Marines supporting each other in any situation at any time. In war, and in life.
This isn’t the only saying the Marine Corps has. You see, we strive to be the best in everything we do, and that carries over into the game of mottos. One of the most powerful Marine Corps mottos is, “Adapt and Overcome.” This phrase is the result of learning, after thousands of missions, that a plan only goes perfectly until the enemy has his say. But when the enemy throws a monkey wrench into your plan, the fact still remains that the mission must be accomplished. So when a Marine’s primary means of accomplishing their mission is cut off, they find a new one. And when that one is cut off, they find a new one. And they continue this process until the hill is taken. They make no comment as to whether or not their situation is fair, or who is to blame for the plan not working, because they know that this knowledge does not get them even an inch closer to their mission. For Marines, the most important thing in the world is protecting their fellow Marines and accomplishing their mission. These are more important than their own life, and Marines are willing to endure any hardship and any pain to do them. It is this saying that allowed me, immediately after having my legs severed by an IED, to maintain focus on my life’s mission of having an enjoyable life, and having a meaningful life. It is the reason I was able to maintain a positive attitude for my family, friends, and my brother Marines, and start looking for a new path to reaching my objective.
In the Marine Corps, we also say, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” What this means is that the honor of the title, and the culture of the Marine Corps is ingrained into every Marine for their entire life, whether they like it or not, and nobody can ever change that. And along with that title and culture comes the responsibilities of both. To fight for our country and fellow Marines. And we bear those responsibilities forever. For the rest of our lives, we stand ready to fight in any arena when we are needed. This is the reason that I have made it my life’s mission to be a positive example of a veteran, and it is this purpose that has driven me to achieve everything I have.
Before our motto was Semper Fidelis, it was Fortitudine. Which means, “with strength.” In the Marine Corps, we value strength among our most sought after qualities. Strength of body, of course. But more importantly, strength of character, which is the source of all other strength. The importance of a strong character is embodied by another common Marine Corps saying: “Honor, Courage, Commitment.” The three aspects of character that the Marine Corps calls their core values. Every Marine is imbued with the responsibility to do what they know, deep in their core, is the right thing to do regardless of the personal consequences and sacrifices that must be made because of it. Even when nobody else is watching. Marines are famous for being courageous. For being able to move forward when every fiber of their being is screaming in fear and self preservation to turn back. They maintain this courage in war, and in everyday life, because courage doesn’t only apply in life threatening situations. The Marine Corps is such a powerful fighting force because every Marine understands their job requires full commitment. They must eat, sleep, and bleed every aspect of their job, at all times, whether it be fighting, or supporting those that do.
Lastly, is the saying, “Country. Marine Corps. Family.” These three words constitute a list of priorities that Marines follow. You will notice that missing from this list are words like, “I, me, and myself,” in fact any mention at all of the individual uttering the phrase. What this omission denotes is the selfless nature of Marines. In fact, it is this quality that makes all of these mottos that I have mentioned possible. It is by prioritizing the needs of the people and places most important to them that allows Marines to overcome anything, and accomplish anything.
I have described to you the mottos that our branches of service use to define who they are. But the fact of the matter is, that every quality I have described today applies across the board to all veterans. When you first meet a veteran, it is safe to assume that they have many, if not all, of these qualities. Regardless of what they have seen, if they are wounded somehow, whether it be physically or psychologically, they all have these abilities that make it so even if they are wounded, they are not broken. They are still capable of overcoming anything, and accomplishing anything.
I have told you of the similarities that all veterans share. But, there is one more, and that is their differences. You see, despite being imbued with many of the same qualities, each veteran is an individual. They are not brainwashed robots. Each veteran has their own beliefs, and their own life experiences that have forged those beliefs, and who they are. So while it is safe to assume these qualities will be present in any veteran you meet, you must take the time to truly learn about them before you can say you really know.
The qualities that veterans share are not exclusive to veterans. They can be learned and used by anybody. So I encourage you to think about how you can apply these mottos and qualities in your life in order to become a better person for YOUR country, YOUR community, and YOUR family. And if you want to honor veterans, remember one last saying: “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”