Major General Perry Smith, who most will remember as CNN Military Analyst during the Persian Gulf War, was the speaker. He is on a mission to promote living members of a very special fraternity. That fraternity is made up of recipients of the Medal of Honor which happens to be our country’s highest award for bravery. He is promoting them because he wants to give them the opportunity to speak to organizations and groups throughout our country while there is time so that their heroism, valor and leadership can influence a generation of young people who desperately need those traits. These heroes are not getting any younger.
As he recounted the true stories of a few of the Medal of Honor recipients in his speech today, I was almost moved to tears. It was moving because the people he spoke about are ordinary people who did extraordinary things. They are people who chose to go beyond the call of duty. And I was very much reminded of the penalty of leadership. And the cost of freedom.
I bought a book today called “Medal of Honor.” As you can see in the photo General Smith signed it for me. I wanted his signature because this man as more than a few credentials. He was the commander at one time of the F-15 Wing of at Britburg Germany where he was leader over 4000 personnel. He later served as top planner for the United States Air Force and Commandant of the National War College. He also flew 180 combat missions in F-4 aircraft in Viet Nam. He also happens to be a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and later earned a PhD in International Relations from Columbia University.
Not in any stretch of your imagination is he your regular ho-hum Rotary Club speaker.
The jacket of the book begins with these words:
Nobody signs up to win the Medal of Honor. You earn it at the intersection of happenstance and hell, and you’re there because that’s what your country has asked of you. When the living heroes whose acts of bravery are chronicled here try to explain their behavior, it’s always in ordinary terms – there were no other choices; they had a mission to complete; it seemed like the right thing to do at the moment; they were just trying to survive. “Somebody had to hold the road” is how World War II Lieutenant Audie Murphy chose to describe the most legendary one-man stand in Army history. But a hero’s action is always extraordinary because it is so contrary to the basic human instincts of self-preservation and survival…
There are huge life lessons about ethics, integrity and leadership than can be gleaned from the stories of these decorated war heroes. And that really hit me today.
In his speech, General Smith quoted a motto that almost knocked me out of my chair. He said this: “If not me who? If not now when?"
In other words, if there is someone better qualified I need to back up and give him room. But if not, then the responsibility is mine. And if this is not the best time, then I need to determine the right time to do whatever it is that must be done. But if this is the best time procrastination can be disastrous.
The greatest accomplishments in life have always been the product of ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things.
If not me who. If not now when.
I think I just got myself a new life motto.