I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist. If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause. I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
I first uttered these words over twenty years ago when I was sworn in to the armed services, the army being my choice, in Memphis, TN. As I look back, now, on the years in between and the things that have happened, I sit sometimes and I wonder what it was that prompted me to enlist in the armed forces, what motivated my thinking, and my acting upon said thought processes. In doing so, I’ve spoken to other veterans through the years, asking them the same questions that I asked of myself. The answers varied, of course, from individual to individual, some having been drafted and having found a home and a way of life that they could understand and appreciate, some of us, like me, volunteers in an era after the draft had long been done away with.
My own plans were to have retired from the army, however, thanks to the budget cuts enacted by the Graham-Rudman-Hollings Act; my plans were drastically changed as the army began eliminating some of us “big boys” who had gone into service under the maximum weight, LOST weight, and were discharged for being OVER weight after the Act went into effect. I won’t go into how that made me feel at the time, or the resentment I still feel over it now, because that isn’t the purpose of this piece. I was asked if I would write a piece on the heart and mind of the American soldier, and drawing from my own experiences and the conversations with others through the years, that’s what I’m going to attempt to do.
From as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a soldier. I could not, and still can not, see the flag waving proudly and hear the national anthem being played without feeling a lump in my throat and my eyes misting at the heavy weight of what it means to me to be an American, and the pride that I have in our country and our way of life, along with the realization of the sacrifices made by others before me for us to have our rights today. I believed in the ideals of our country, our nation, from my earliest memories. My thoughts, my beliefs, where and still are that our way of life was and is to be defended and upheld, for ourselves, for our families and loved ones, for our children and our children’s children. I know that those are some deep thoughts for a child, but I was always a child of deep thought, a state that has followed me into my adult years.
When I was younger, I had difficulty expressing my thoughts in the spoken word, again, a condition that sometimes gives me trouble still, but if I could sit down long enough to think, and to write, I could put forth my ideas in what could be, more or less, a comprehensive format for others to follow and understand what was on my mind.
The heart of the soldier is the heart of someone who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of others. Most often, the most immediate thoughts are of those comrades in arms on the battlefield and loved ones back home when the soldier is confronted with the possibility of death. This doesn’t undermine the deep rooted belief of the soldier in ideals and principles worth fighting for, and in some cases, worth dying for. The belief that life should be lived freely is a common bond amongst those who enter the armed forces of our country, no matter if the service is entered for college money or for other reasons. Freedom, and the love of freedom, motivates the majority of us to commit our lives, or a portion of our lives, to our nation’s defense. Our very precepts were established by men willing to fight and die for a cause they believed in, a struggle to be free of an oppressive and overbearing government. Thomas Jefferson put these beliefs into words with the Declaration of Independence when he wrote them, stating “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” The truth and meaning of these words, and the words preceding and following them, are just as applicable today as they were when our fledgling nation was in it’s infancy, when the thought of the United States was merely a concept, not a reality. The spirit of these words has been the driving force behind our nation’s military membership since the days before we WERE a nation, when we were still colonies under British rule fighting for independence.
We stand ready, soldiers past and present, to fight to defend our way of life, our freedom, our rights as citizens of this nation to live freely, to think freely, to believe, to live, to love, and to die as free men and women. The marines have a saying, “once a marine, always a marine.” I find this to be true of the majority of veterans in regards to their branches of service. I am as much a soldier today as I was when I was in uniform, ready and willing to fight and, if need be, die for the cause of freedom for my countrymen.
There are those out there, still today, who despise us for what we are, what we do, what we stand for, calling us names, degrading us, despising us. That is their right, and their choice. As they make that choice, it would do well for them to remember this one key fact: they have those rights because American servicemen and women have served to ensure that those rights are preserved.
The words may have changed in recent years to become more “inclusive” and politically correct to “I am an American Soldier,” but the spirit still stands the same as the words I recited, with pride, over twenty years ago when I was sworn in to service. I was, and still am, an American fighting man…