Honoring Those Who Never Came Home

Just West of Cambridge, England on an immaculate slope of deep green grass surrounded by sprawling woodlands lies a powerful reminder of the tragedy of war. The Cambridge American Cemetery sits on more than thirty acres. The land was donated to the U.S. by Cambridge University. It remains the only permanent American World War II military cemetery in the British Isles.

As an American graduate student at Cambridge University and a U.S. Navy Veteran, I was drawn to this sacred place. During my time in England, I made many trips here to walk among the 3,812 white grave markers neatly arranged in a 90-degree arc, each one facing a large American flag in the center.

Every white cross and star of David represented a young American who died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in the bombings of Northwest Europe. As I walked the rows, I found myself reading the names, calculating their ages, and thinking about these heroes. These were young men and women who left their country to defend a place far from their homes.

These were young men and women who left their country to defend a place far from their homes. Click To Tweet

I was very close to my two grandfathers who both served in World War II. They each had a profound and powerful effect on who I am as a person. One served on a Navy Destroyer Escort in the Atlantic and the other was in the Army in the Pacific theatre. Both men survived the war, returned to their hometowns, and started families. They had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Each lived a long and happy life.

The heroes buried in Cambridge never had that chance. These brave Americans died young and never returned home. Their lives were cut short and they remain silent on that quiet slope of green grass in the British countryside. On Memorial Day, I always find myself thinking about those heroes on that hill.

These brave Americans died young and never returned home. Click To Tweet

As a veteran, I worry that Americans will forget about the men and women who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy. The declining number of veterans is part of my concern. In 2016, only 7% of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18% in 1980. The gap between those who served and those who didn’t continues to grow. This could lead to Americans forgetting about those that sacrificed so much.

Today, Memorial Day has become a three-day weekend with sales, picnics, barbeques, vacations, and the unofficial start of the summer season but it didn’t start out this way. It was originally called Decoration Day and was dedicated to honoring those that died serving in the military.

After the Civil War, America was dealing with the loss of more than 620,000 soldiers. General John A. Logan, the leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for May 30th to be set aside “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.” The date was chosen specifically because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle.

On the first Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, former Union General and Ohio Congressman James A. Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. His words were clear and powerful. He proclaimed that “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For the love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

That day, more than 5,000 Americans showed up at Arlington to decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. From that point forward, the tradition grew with similar celebrations throughout the country.

For more than 50 years, Decoration Day commemorated those killed in the Civil War only. It wasn’t until World War I that the tradition expanded to include American military personnel who died in all wars. Memorial Day, as we know it, became an official federal holiday in 1971 as Americans dealt with the effects of the Vietnam War.

Today, Memorial Day is an American federal holiday, observed on the last Monday of May. It’s set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It’s a tradition to fly the flag at half-staff from dawn until noon and Americans are encouraged to visit cemeteries and place flowers or flags on graves to honor those who have died in military service. It is celebrated each year at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which American flags are placed on each grave and the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the “National Moment of Remembrance Act” which designated 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance. It is tradition to have either a moment of silence or to play “Taps” at 3:00 PM.

This Memorial Day, let’s remember these American heroes. Take time to find a local memorial service in your area. Visit a military cemetery or memorial. Watch the ceremony at Arlington. Share in a moment of silence at 3:00 PM. Spend time to think about the young men and women who left their country to defend our freedoms so far from their homes and let’s honor those that never came home.

The Power of Passion and Perseverance

As we enter our 5th week in quarantine, I’m reminded of the famous motivational posters produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The words were simple but the message was powerful:

“Keep Calm and Carry On.”

It’s a great message for all of us today.

The COVID crisis is clearly testing our resolve.

One thing I have noticed though…some people are handling it better than others.

And it got me thinking.

Why do some people thrive while others falter in tough times?

What is it that allows certain individuals to endure the toughest challenges without wavering?

Psychologist Angela Duckworth set out to understand this. She studied cadets at West Point. She wanted to be able to pinpoint the one thing that predicted whether or not a cadet would make it through “Beast Barracks,” the grueling seven-week initiation program.

What she discovered was groundbreaking.

She learned that endurance wasn’t predicted by SAT scores, GPA, athletics, race, gender, or social status. The most important trait for success in difficult times was “grit.”

The most important trait for success in difficult times is grit. Click To Tweet

Duckworth defines grit as “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement.” It’s about having such a strong passion for your goals that you are willing to withstand any hardship to achieve them.

Someone who exemplifies grit in action is Gretchen Smith. Gretchen is the founder and leader of Code of Vets. Code of Vets is a charity that helps military veterans in crisis.

Gretchen’s passion for veterans and her dogged persistence to overcome countless challenges has led to one of the most powerful grass-roots organizations in the country. She has an army of volunteers who will drop everything to come to the rescue of veterans in need. In her first year in operation, she raised more than $800,000 of which 99% of the donations went directly to veterans.

She is a powerful force for good who leads with passion and persistence. Listen to my interview with her on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership Podcast.

Grit is about having such a strong passion for your goals that you are willing to withstand any hardship to achieve them. Click To Tweet

To support her efforts, especially during this COVID crisis, I recently announced that 100% of the proceeds of the sale of my book, I Have the Watch, will go directly to Code of Vets from April 20-26, 2020.

We did this last year and raised more than $1,000 for this important charity.

So, buy a book and help a Vet! Go to IHAVETHEWATCH.COM to order.

Please share this with all the leaders and future leaders in your circle of influence so we help military veterans during this crisis.

 

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

Who’s Your Chief?

When I was just 23 years old, fresh out of submarine school, I was given my first leadership job.

I was assigned to lead the team of sailors who maintained and operated the complex systems that controlled the nuclear reactor on the USS Tennessee. It was a small group led by a senior enlisted sailor, a Chief Petty Officer, who had come up through the ranks.

The Chief Petty Officer was not only skilled, but he was also highly experienced. He had been in the Navy for almost as many years as I had been alive. He was older than me and had infinitely more knowledge in the maintenance and operation of nuclear reactor controls. And the team looked to him for guidance.

Yet, I was in charge.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees. Click To Tweet

So, how can you be an effective leader if you’re young and inexperienced? It’s simple.

Find your Chief and learn from them.

You’re probably thinking – How do I find my Chief? In the Navy it was easy but how do I find my Chief in a business environment? Look for the person in the organization who is the opinion leader. Usually, they are a senior employee and a technical expert.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers. Click To Tweet

That person is your Chief.

That’s the person you want to build a relationship with and learn from. In most cases, they don’t want your job, they are happy being the senior, technical expert. If you show them respect and learn from them, you will become a more effective leader for the team.

Deep Leadership PodcastListen to my conversation with retired Chief Petty Officer, Chuck Whitworth on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast to understand the important relationship between the Leader and the Chief.

And, if you need more ideas on how to be an effective leader, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas on how you can become a more effective leader.

 

Photo: USS Key West Chief of the Boat Master Chief Nicholas Harr (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey J. Hockenberger)