Hallowed Military Words
President Bush on the Deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln
It was well over a hundred degrees that day in Ben Hoa. My outfit had just come off the choppers returning to base camp. Charlie Company 2/503 Battalion of the 173 Airborne Brigade stood in what was at best a semblance of a military formation. After three weeks in the jungle we were a grungy, unshaven group of paratroopers who hadn’t seen a bath much less a change of clothes for three weeks. In short we bore no resemblance to the parade ready immaculate airborne soldier in dress greens and famous spit shined jump boots. As General Williamson approached we did dress up our formation at the directions of First Sgt. Jackson. Knowing that we were tired, hungry and not ready for a speech lasting more than three minutes, General Williamson elected to give a three word address to his weary warriors. As we stood at attention (sort of) one of the finest commanders to ever wear jump boots looked at a bunch of teenagers with incredible pride and said, “Mission accomplished, men”.
I was a long way from Texas. I was 19 years old. I had killed my first man with a bayonet. He was a boy younger than me who screamed and begged for his life as blood literally sprayed from the hole in his chest. I had seen my brothers die. My unwashed uniform stank from the blood of a brother who had died in my arms. We had fought well and the enemy had been vanquished from his strong hold. However, the reality of war is a far cry from that portrayed by a John Wayne movie. There are two kinds of people who will tell you that they were not eaten up with fear in a battle. One is a fool and the other is a liar. Neither is worth a damned as a soldier. A wise man once said that courage is not the absence of fear; it is the overcoming of fear. Fear in the heat of combat creates the adrenalin that fuels the engine a warrior’s life depends on. Professional warriors will universally acknowledge the need for fear as a tool of the trade. The fear that hurts a soldier is not the fear in the fight, but the fear after the battle. Indeed the fear that makes you quick and strong in the fight is not only helpful it is absolutely essential for survival. However, the fear that sets in after the battle when the mind recounts the action is the stuff that attacks the very sole of a warrior. I had gone from a teenage kid to an old war veteran in a matter of three weeks. My exterior appearance was that of a hard combat professional soldier. I was an old soldier now and would see many more battles. Physically I was unharmed and not in need of medical treatment. Inside I was hurting beyond any civilian’s ability to grasp. Emotionally I was seriously damaged and in dire need of help.
One needs to understand at this point the extraordinary meaning of the word “mission” in military lingo. I am a professional journalist and words are my business. However, I lack the ability to translate the magnitude of this hallowed word’s military meaning to the civilian vocabulary. From the kid with the rifle and bayonet to the General, the word mission is written in Holy Grail. The mission is everything. It is what you are prepared to give your life for and take another man’s life to accomplish. Another word that the military attached an extraordinary degree of importance to is the word “commander”. The word commander is defined in Mr. Webster’s best seller as “the absolute authority”. The military takes that definition literally. To a fighting man words from his commander are absolutely indisputable. If the old man says it, it is by military definition a fact. When my commander looked at me and said those simple but sacred military words, “Mission Accomplished” the civilian translation would have been that it was a nice pat on the back. The military reality was that it was a healing balm to a critically damaged sole.
It is the sacred duty of any officer in a command position to take care of his men. Later I received a commission and had the honor of commanding America’s finest sons in combat. I would never forget the obligation of a commander to his warriors. General Williamson had taught me well. Never did I fail to tell my guys after every successful mission, “Gentlemen, mission accomplished”.
Decades after that meaningful day in the life of a young paratrooper, another commander stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and spoke to her gallant crew. President George W. Bush did his duty as America’s Commander in Chief and said to those deserving sailors, “Mission Accomplished”. A banner proudly flew at his back as he spoke directly to a gallant band of American warriors. The crew had stood in harm’s way to accomplish a mission. They had done their job well and were homeward bound after completing their mission. It was not only proper it was the absolute sacred responsibility for their commander to tell them they had accomplished their mission with honor. On that day in May of 2003 President Bush proved himself to be a man who clearly understood his role as Commander in Chief.
Since that day the noble words of this honorable American commander have been distorted and dishonored by many politicians and news media pundits. The honored words, “Mission Accomplished” were spoken by the President of the United States directly to the crew of an American Navy vessel. They were spoken from the deck of that vessel as it returned from a specific mission. To suggest that this deserved message from the highest commander in this crew’s chain of command was related to anything but their specific mission is ludicrous.
Regardless of one’s views of America’s war efforts or political party affiliation to distort this message to American heroes from their President is un-American by any standard. Let there be no question that the sole purpose of this theft of the earned praise of the service men of the USS Abraham Lincoln is purely political with no semblance of decently or honor. I believe myself to be a tolerant man and as such I respect those who differ with my political opinion. I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States that gives all Americans the freedom of speech. I stand ready to lay down my life to defend that right even for those who say things I find disgraceful. That said, I also maintain my freedom to call their words despicable. Even in the unholy arena of politics there should be a line that is not crossed. I submit that distorting the honorable act of the President of theUnited States and tarnishing the praise of American servicemen has crossed that line.
To this day I simply can not hear anything that Senator Harry Reid says. I go to great lengths to give opposing political opinion not only a fair hearing but respect. However, my emotions take over when I see the Senator’s face and hear his voice. When this pitiful excuse for an American speaks on any subject I immediately flash back to his intentional distortion of something I hold sacred. Mr. Reid has proven beyond any doubt that his partisan motivated mission trumps any decency and love for the American who stands in harms way for my beloved America. I maintain that anyone who intentionally attempts to rob not only my Commander in Chief but my brothers and sisters in arms of their honor has no honor himself.