LSU Honors America’s Military Veterans
BATON ROUGE — Good morning, Lt. Col. McKeon, other distinguished guests, cadets, and most especially, the Hall of Honors honorees. Since its inception in 1860, LSU has produced a long line of military heroes, 12 of whom are being honored today. Given that, I would like to reflect on what it means to be a hero.
As children, we often look up to celebrities and athletes as our heroes but as we grow older, our definition of a hero changes and we come to realize that the ability to jump from the foul line and dunk a basketball is not heroic—it is merely an example of extreme talent and athleticism. Being elected to public office is not in and of itself heroic. Being the fastest swimmer on the planet, or returning an intercepted pass 99 yards for a touchdown—these things are exciting, glamorous, sometimes awe-inspiring, but they are not heroic.
True heroism requires service to others, which is the missing element in all of these endeavors. Service to others is central to the concept of heroism. In our history classes we learned of men like Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and George Patton who motivated us as we read of their decisive leadership during World War II.
Now as a member of the military, I need not look to the glamorous lives of celebrities and athletes or even to the pages of history to find heroes. I need not travel back with Teddy Roosevelt to San Juan Hill. I need not walk the beaches of Normandy, nor travel to the deserts of North Africa. Because today I’m constantly surrounded by heroes. Heroes of past wars, heroes of this epic struggle we currently face as a nation, heroes like those being honored today, and even heroes of wars to come.
And it’s not just the person serving that is a hero. I will add to this list of heroes the families and friends of those who wear the uniform. Every spouse who keeps the children fed, the books read, and the prayers said; every spouse who keeps the bills paid, the homework done, and has ensured a house is a home is a hero. I know that whatever success I have enjoyed in my career has been upon the shoulders of my husband and my children who are my heroes.
Every parent who has prayed for the safe return of their child from a combat zone, every family member that has sent a care package, every friend that has penned a note of encouragement to a deployed comrade is a hero because they have given of themselves for the sake of another.
I’d like to quote Ben Stein, who wrote the following in an article about his idea of a hero. “A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family devastated in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.”
“There are plenty of other heroes in our country … the policemen and women who go off on patrol … and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.”
“Now you have my idea of a real hero.” Stein goes on to say, “I came to realize that a life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human.” Let me repeat “… a life lived to help others is the only one that matters.”
We are lucky enough to be a part of a profession that by its very nature allows us to lead “a life lived to help others.” It is a great responsibility—at times demanding personal sacrifice, danger to ourselves, and heartache for our loved ones, and also a tremendous blessing—because we reap the satisfaction of working for the greater good.
Some people go their entire lives having never known a single person that has sacrificed his or her own comfort or safety for the sake of our nation. That’s certainly not true in this room, filled with the very personification of sacrifice.
It is a generally unspoken, but nonetheless a legitimate benefit of military life that we are immersed in a culture of selflessness. Being thus immersed, I find myself inspired. Being thus inspired, I then expect more of myself, and more of those I work with and around. It is a circle of selflessness that builds upon itself and makes us better people. It has been said that “sacrifice begets sacrifice,” and “honor begets honor,” and nowhere is that more true than in the company of military veterans.
And now, if you would indulge me for just a moment, I would like to talk about my favorite heroes, the men and women of the Louisiana National Guard.
During the past decade over 23,000 Louisiana National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have left the comfort of their homes, families, and jobs and deployed in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn. Today, 256 Louisiana Guardsmen are mobilized to Afghanistan and other locations around the world and more than 1,000 are alerted for deployment within the next 12 months.
Every day, nearly 11,000 Guardsmen across Louisiana stand ready to protect our state and our nation. Most recently, 6,700 Soldiers and Airmen were mobilized to support operations during Hurricane Isaac where they provided comfort and support to the citizens of Louisiana. More than 5,200 people were rescued from flooded areas, over three million meals and six million bottles of water were distributed, and 50 miles of roadways were cleared.
Our Guardsmen partner with federal, state, and local agencies to respond to the needs of our state and country. They perform admirably and with the utmost commitment.
I don’t think it too presumptuous to say that we who still wear the uniform, and all who came before us, serve our country out of a profound sense of duty and honor. And with the understanding that the freedoms we have today were secured by those who came before us; it is our hope—our expectation—that those who will selflessly volunteer to serve in our nation’s military in the future will continue to protect our great nation.
General George Washington said in 1789, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
As the world changes around us, and as our military evolves to meet the challenges presented in our future, one thing endures: The dedication of our Soldier, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who stand watch. We owe our veterans, our heroes both our gratitude and our support.
As we approach Veterans Day—I ask you to commit yourself to recognizing a veteran—a hero, and let them know that their service is remembered by a grateful nation.
May God bless you, all of our Veterans, and their families.
And may God bless our great state and the United States of America.