IF YOU ARE A SOLDIER, you draw pay and eat at a common mess with the understanding that, some day for a certainty, you will be called upon as a matter of duty to put yourself in the way of death or injury, and to inflict death and injury on others. To shirk this responsibility is to call down upon yourself not only a capital sentence, but what is worse, disgrace. My grandfather fought in World War One, and was much decorated for both exemplary courage and his many wounds. He insisted that his medals came to him because he was less afraid of the enemy than to appear a coward. Not all soldiers were like him. Many would gladly have held back, to put off death or wounds, if only for a few precious moments. Their commanding officers recognized this human desire to live rather than to charge into the teeth of almost certain destruction, and made provision against it. For, if one man were to hold back, many might hold back. If one man were to turn and run to the safety of the trenches, many might do so and the day would be lost. Therefore, select soldiers were left behind in the trenches, manning machine guns, not only to respond to an enemy breakthrough, but to shoot down dead any who might try to run back and hide. Everyone knew this. Therefore, no matter what might have been in their secret hearts, when the whistle blew, all rose up as one and, their thin cries whipped away by the wind, each ran alone with his terror toward spitting quickfire guns.
Take courage: go forward or die.
May 22, 1994
"I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way." - John Paul Jones (1747 - 1792), Letter, November 16, 1778
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