Veterans Honored at Trinity

Members of the College community gathered at the flag pole on the Quad to pay tribute to American veterans during a Veterans Day ceremony. Following welcoming remarks from President Jones and an invocation by College Chaplain Dan Heischman, two Viet Nam veterans, Director of Campus Safety Charles Morris and Visiting Lecturer in Legal Studies Michael Heaney, offered remarks.

Heaney, a rifle platoon leader in Viet Nam, read his annual letter to the men who served under him. It is reproduced here.

Vets Day 2005

November 11, 2005, a Friday.  Sunny, windy, and cold.

Dear Sammy, Terry, Walter, Randall, Frederick, Picardo, Rochester, John, Jesse, and Arlos:

This year in my annual letter to the ten of you, I decided not to list your names in alphabetical order - too institutional - so I've listed you instead in the order you appear at lines 15 through 23, on Panel 7 East, at the Viet Nam Memorial Wall, in Washington, DC.  (I know, I know, the irony of it all.  I don't think any of you even ever got to Washington while you were alive. Do you guys even know the meaning of that word, irony?  It's a big one back here where I'm working now.)

Anyway, how are you all doing?  It does get odder each year.  Here I am 62 years old now, and you guys are all still 19 or thereabouts, haven't aged a bit since we last saw each other in the flesh: 39 years, 5 months, 178 days, and about 1 hour ago.  It sure was a lot warmer that day.

You're probably saner than I am, more reconciled to your fate.  Maybe in the end, death is the only sanity we have; maybe that's what heaven is: saneness. We sure don't have much of it around here, guys.  What we have is chaos. Hell, sometimes.  You remember the hell part; it wasn't "down there" after all, was it.  Remember our song: "We gotta get outta' this place, if it's the last thing we ever do?"  Well we made it, at least you guys did, and for you it was the last thing you ever did, here anyway.  I'm just glad you and I don't have to go there any more….

But, as I've told you before, somebody else is going to that place now. Again.  We've once again managed to create hell on earth - along with our Muslim brothers.  It's always something.  This one started just over 4 years ago. And our brothers, once again, are right in the middle of it (2,057 since we invaded Mesopotamia - that's the count as of this morning - and another 15,568 wounded, and that's just us, of course): they're out there killing, getting killed, maiming, getting maimed, coming back dead in boxes, coming back dead men walking - the unlucky ones - walking that walk they’ll walk the rest of their lives here, taking their loved ones down with them.  You know the story.  I'm glad at least you guys are all resting in peace. Requiescat in pacem. 

"Don't mean nothin'," as we used to say.  Very Zen, though we didn't know that at the time.   

Anyway, we're at it again.  Those 2000+ who are already there with you, I'm sure they've caught you up on what's going down.  Now they can be sane again.  Now they're safe.  How could they not be?  They're with you, and you're the best.  Thank God for that.          

Now you know each year I try to leave you with something uplifting.  I know; it's not you who need this - you've already been lifted up, in every sense - it's actually me, and we the living right here now, who need to hear something inspiring, who have a need to make some meaning out of  all of this.  You already have meaning: you're sane, you're with each other, you're dead.  So this is only partly for you, and mostly for the rest of us.     

Now  we've all heard of the Declaration of Independence, right?  What most people seem actually to remember about the Declaration are those inspiring beginning words, the ones about "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, etc., etc."  For people who get off on words, those are indeed some pretty fine ones.  But there's an overlooked part of the Declaration that's my personal favorite, and it's not the way its starts, it's the way it ends.  

"And for the support of this Declaration, and with a firm reliance on Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."  We mutually pledge to each other our  Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.  56 men put their John Hancock to that pledge, a little more than a platoon's worth of patriots.  

That pledge, mostly overlooked here in academia, is not a high-falutin' concept  - that pledge is not really words at all, in the usual sense.  It's an act…a promise real men made, and gave, to each other, promising to risk real things, things that included every single thing they had to lose.  And if you actually look into it, you find that those pledges were very costly for the 56 men who made them, and for their families.    

17 of those signers actually went off to war, and several were killed, or had sons that joined up and were killed.  (Can you imagine that today - political leaders actually going off to a war they started?)  Several of them did lose their fortunes.

So guys, this year I want you to remember the pledges you once made, to one another.  And how well you then acted them out.  Your pledges were fully redeemed, at face value, and you are fully redeemed.  You paid.  Your honor is established, for all time.  Shakespeare put it into words better than I can, in that now too-often-quoted play of his about "we happy few, we band of brothers" - King Henry V (and Will, you'll have to pardon my paraphrasing you a bit):   

"A many of your bodies, no doubt
Found native graves; upon the which I trust,
Shall witness live…of your day's work:
And you who left your valiant bones in  France…or French Indochina
Dying like men, though buried in those nations' dunghills,
You shall be - you are - fam'd; for there the sun greets you,
And draws your honors reeking up to heaven,
Leaving your earthly parts to choke our clime…to choke our voices."

Now that's inspiring, and that's for you.   

Just one more thing I want to tell you before I close.  The thing I tell you every year now; the thing I never told you when we were that few, that "happy few," because we just didn't talk that way back then.  But I hope you always knew it anyway.  I think you did. 

What I want to tell you is…I love you.

Bye for now,

Your Lieutenant

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