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Honor

Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2023
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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20 Comments
Honor
The Honor Guard at Arlington National Cemetery

Honor. Honor is what comes to mind, washes over you in powerful, humbling waves, catches you off guard – even as you know it may – when you enter sacred ground, choose to walk among the white stones of Arlington National Cemetery, row upon row unending. Last week found me doing that.

For an entire day, walking row after row, marker to marker, time meant next to nothing – and it meant next to everything. My day was one of thousands, warm, a light breeze. Theirs, their last day on earth, carefully engraved on each white stone, was given to me – and given to you.

For thousands upon thousands, their last day – their last sunrise, last meal, last breath they drew, last effort they expended – was spent for us, so we could live in peace. And then, their time ended.

The thought is almost too much to process. The last day on earth for many of these veterans – and most were young – was spent defending liberties, a way of life, principles, and the faith we so often take for granted, that we so fail to fully appreciate, and fail to thank them for. So, I came…to thank them.

I thanked those who died on the battlefields – places like Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Spotsylvania, and Antietam in the Civil War, Saint-Mihiel and Belleau Wood in WWI, then Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Anzio, Sicily, and the Bulge, or Iwo, Okinawa, Tarawa, Leyte Gulf, and Guadalcanal in WWII.

I thanked those who died at Chosin Reservoir, Pusan, Inchon, Naktong, Taejon, and Masan in Korea. I thanked those who died during Tet, at Khe Sanh, Lam Son, Dien Bien Phu, Hamburger Hill in Vietnam.

Looking at their gravestones, I thanked these boys who were barely 20, many in their early 20s, who went down in bombers over Europe and the Pacific, last moments terror in a broken up B-17, B-24, B-29, or a glider, fighter, or helicopter, the air, navy, and marine crews, infantry who gave all in WW I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, later Iraq, Afghanistan, and locations unnamed. They were so young.

Reading stone after stone, my heart went also to those who came home, lived to tell how their brothers fell, or never to tell, who lived with the guilt of living, some for decades, some who could not and died of the pain. You could tell, you can see it in the stones, feel it in your soul, and it hurts, forces a reckoning.

Twice that day, with time suspended, I silently watched The Old Guard change at the Tomb of Unknowns, young soldiers displaying extreme discipline, rifle inspection and footfalls to salutes. Five were men, one a woman. Each personified focus, intense dedication, power of honor – the honor of standing watch at the grave of those “known only to God,” who went to their Maker, no other marker on earth.

That ceremony put me in mind of a young man from Maine whose sister just died, in her 90s. She lived in my town, spent her last energies seeking her brother’s remains; he died in a firefight on the Solomon Islands, a US Marine. Another young man from my town won the DSC in Sicily, saved his entire company, never got home. The Arlington Guards – men and women of real honor – guard their honor, too.

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From there, my day’s journey led me to graves of my grandfather and father, relatives gone before mine was a sentient soul, on to six good friends etched in stone who perished on 9-11. Finally, steady footfalls near end of day led to JFK, the eternal flame, and finally to the back of Section 60, a quiet section.

There, at the back of Section 60, was a simple white stone. From a distance, it was indistinguishable from any other in the cemetery. Under his name were five lines, “Gen US Army, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, APR 5, 1937, OCT 18, 2020.” That was it. 

Nowhere on this stone does it say – although I knew it to be so – that here was a man of honor, who had survived helicopter crashes, two jungle tours in Vietnam, weathered indignities from racism to disrespect, been Ronald Reagan’s most trusted advisor on national security, helped bring down the Soviet Union, become a four-star, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, paragon of patience, Secretary of State.

None of that was on the stone, because to Colin Luther Powell, none of that mattered – as much as the chance to serve, an opportunity – in a phrase he used for others, to be “equal to his time.” Here was my old boss – a man whose entire life was built on service to country, on sacrifice and honor.

In the modern moment, we are quick to condemn, slow to praise. We get trigger happy with insults, derision, our own purity, judgment, surety. But these stones are where truth and humility lives, where you cannot come and be glib, where God speaks quietly, and if you hear Him much is suddenly expected.

That is why, as Memorial Day approaches, my heart drifted to this special place, and my feet followed. Here we are nothing, we are only what we will stop to understand, pick up and carry forward. Here, and before veterans’ graves, you feel the weight of what remains undone, the tick of time, privilege of living. More could be said, but need not be. We all know what resides on these memorial-dotted hillsides. There is a word for it, one that lifts, animates, and obligates – Honor.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
10 months ago

Very respectful tribute to those who gave everything they had defending everything they believed to be right. Defending liberty, defending good, defending the principles that help to build the Nation’s character. Honor.
Praise for this memorial message Robert, with respect. Honor.
With great appreciation for what those who gave everything they had did defending all the truly important things that required their courage, their dedication, their loyalty to principles. Honor.

SusanW
SusanW
10 months ago

What an amazing article! It frames Memorial Day perfectly. Thank you for your service and your courage, Robert! “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” Aristotle

I say farewell, as I find the comments and many of the articles a bit to caustic and feel they are dividing us even more. We will only succeed in saving our nation if we lead, always, with kindness, empathy, and selflessness. It is easy to blame and point fingers, but hard to turn the other cheek.

“The only guide to a man is his conscience, the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations, but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honor.” Winston Churchill

johnh
johnh
10 months ago

Thank you for article that honors all the people that served to defend the American way of life & freedoms that we enjoy today because of these great people.

Robert Deighton
Robert Deighton
10 months ago

Robert, thank you for a moving Memorial Day reminder of the privilege and good fortune we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. Our enduring freedom has been preserved only by the sacrifices made by our true heroes. The Arlington experience should be required in every school, either by personal visits or classroom video.

David Millikan
David Millikan
10 months ago

The DOD has replaced Honor with Drag Queens and the WHOLE WORLD is LAUGHING.
Now we have a military that will wear dresses and makeup when they go to WAR.
What a DISGRACE and DISGUSTING.
This is what happens when you put Satanic, Socialist, Communist, Fascist democrats in office.
Remember Dictator Beijing biden standing in front of his SATANIC BLOOD RED backdrop on his first LIE TO THE NATION ADDRESS WITH 2 MARINES? Surprised he didn’t have them in Drag Queen outfits.

Max
Max
10 months ago

Thank you, RBC, for a wonderful article and thoughts. I help my sisters keep up with registrations in cemeteries in west central Ohio. I (retired USN) and my Navy veteran sister enjoy reading the tombstones and honoring those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice for this nation. Have a great and wonderful Memorial Day.

bud
bud
10 months ago

im starting a buycott of anheuser busch to counteract the stupid boycott, i just bought a case of budweiser and a case of bud light

Michael J
Michael J
10 months ago

Every American service man or woman enshrined for their ultimate sacrifice was done so because of some madman, dictator, politician or bureaucrat. Some had volunteered, others were drafted but regardless, they were ordered into harm’s way and paid the ultimate price. Wars and rumors of war is mankind’s price in a fallen world. But for once I would like to see a madman, dictator, politician or bureaucrat pay that ultimate price themselves and maybe they wouldn’t be so inclined to spill the blood of others.
Memorial day is to remind us who really paid that ultimate sacrifice.

spitfire?1940
spitfire?1940
10 months ago

Colin Powell,a man of enormous stature and honor.His greatest and most painful wound was being deceived by a Charleston who was not fit to lick his boots and who he endorsed.THE COMMUNIST RESPONSIBLE for the present state of this great country.B H.OBAMA.

spitfire?1940
spitfire?1940
10 months ago

Bud,moron ,if used to describe you would be flattering!

CoNMTX
CoNMTX
10 months ago

I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery. It was a moving experience. If I’d been there the day Robert Charles was there, I dare say it should have been less crowded since I certainly wouldn’t have run into any Democrats pushing to get in. The demos today don’t know what honor is. They also don’t exhibit much in the way of integrity, character, honesty, or morality.

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