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My son Patrick (closest to the camera at a civilian’s idea of parade rest) listens to the instructions of the enlisting officer among 9 young men and women preparing to swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States. They were here to make their first commitment to the armed forces.
When I took this photo, my son Jack stood at my right shoulder. Jack’s swearing-in took place in this room in 2009. He re-enlisted last year on board the USS Missouri.
On the wall to the right you see a tribute to a young man who stood in this room not so long ago. His parents, like me, stood nearby and witnessed his commitment to our country, to its constitution, and to our people. I’m sure those parents, like me, struggled with dueling emotions: pride and worry, hope and loneliness, as their son raised his hand and swore to God that he would support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to obey the orders of the President and the officers appointed over him.
Like me, that soldier’s parents thought ahead to seeing their son at boot camp graduation and on his first return home on leave where he would tell stories of deployments and of the remarkable people he serves with.
And, like me, they could only pray that fortune would not blot out the day of his return.
But we never know, do we? When young men and women raise their right hands in rooms like this one, they take on a tremendous burden.
Congratulations, Patrick. You and Jack carry on a proud and noble tradition of sacrifice that so few of your peers will understand or appreciate. Even among St. Louis Tea Partiers, only about 32 percent have ever served. Nationally, that number drops to 7.3 percent of the US population who have taken the oath you took yesterday. Ninety-two percent of Americans never experienced your calling and commitment.
While service comes in many forms, you have started on the path that most conspicuously says, “I am here to serve.”
Yesterday Patrick slipped from his father’s grasp and became America’s son. He will stand guard while we sleep. He will stop to render honors to our flag. He will call home from a watch station on Christmases and Thanksgivings while we enjoy rich dinners and crackling fires. He will run into the danger so we may scramble to get away.
And he will return many times not as my son, but as ours.