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A Terrible Day for the Navy Family

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US Navy ends hunt for 7 missing sailors as bodies are found in the ship

I saw the FoxNews.com headline last night. My face sagged. Those tiny muscles that control our facial expressions all fell asleep at once. A long, slow breath-flood rushed from my slack lips.

I thought about those seven families. The families who haven’t heard from their USS Fitzgerald sailors.

They can do the math.

While the Navy scrambles its Casualty Assistance Call system to deliver official notifications, the families who haven’t heard from their sailor worry.

Yesterday, I got numerous texts from friends. “Patrick’s not on the Fitzgerald, is he?”

“No,” I assured them. “The Nimitz. He’s doing fine.”

When you know someone in the Navy, your heart races whenever you hear of trouble at sea.

This Father’s Day makes me so sad for the families of those seven sailors. And those injured. And those whose careers were ruined when the freighter collided with the USS Fitzgerald.

When we send our kids off to boot camp or ROTC or the Academy, we feel a terrified pride. We feel successful, having raised a child to adulthood. A child with the character and discipline and commitment to take on such a difficult, dangerous job.

We feel terrified that we’ve relinquished responsibility for the safety of our country to the child we bathed in the kitchen sink only a few short years ago. How could we put so much on their shoulders? Those shoulders we bathed in SPF-60 sunscreen only yesterday.

My Father’s Day wish to all the military fathers is simple: may your son or daughter serve with honor, distinction, and a safe return home.

P.S. I removed a Father’s Day post I’d written last week. Its message was overcome by events.

And if the Fitzgerald was intentionally rammed, I pray my sons have a hand in killing the bastards responsible.

Two Faces of Memorial Day

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The god of Memorial Day is Janus, looking to the future as well as the past.

Memorial Day looks back, but it also warns of something coming. The list of war dead is incomplete. It always will be.

Each generation looks at its wars and finds something final, but the end never comes. Memorials never end while man roams the earth.

When I see the Vietnam Memorial, with its rows and ranks of lost warriors, I see, too, the invisible ledger that stretches to the horizon. Empty granite awaiting the engraver’s hammer. The list of names who’ve given the last full measure of devotion only grows. It never stops.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but Memorial Day now seems both about the brave heroes who’ve gone before and about the heroes who will follow. Every young man and woman in uniform holds a ticket for that grim lottery. Two and a half million Americans serve, active and reserve. Two and a half million tickets. My dad held those tickets twice, in World War II and Korea, but he survives still. I held a ticket for over nine years, but here I am. Two of my boys hold tickets in the Navy now, and another is a new firefighter. I pray those numbers don’t come up.

But those lottery balls spin and bounce in their cage. Politicians roll them out. Numbers line up. Names are called. And the engraver’s hammer strikes the granite. And it will again.

On Memorial Day, as we honor the noble dead, I also think of the noble living. The hammer will strike for some of the living who’ve put themselves between us and harm. I know war will never end, so I can’t forget that some of our fallen heroes walk among us today.

God love them all.

 

You Have a New Son, America

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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.

Patrick Hennessy takes the oath of enlistment at the Federal Building in St. Louis August 14, 2015.

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.

What Is Leadership?

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Many of you loved Simon Sinek’s Start With Why TEDx talk.

I love the way Simon Sinek thinks. It’s no surprise, then, that his TED Talk on leadership could be the greatest definition of leadership I’ve ever heard.

Please watch and share. I have some thoughts and a poll following.

Contrasts give greater clarity. Sinek’s contrast between military leadership and business leadership says a lot about the state of American business.

[olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]You know, in the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backwards[/olympus_highlight]

Ouch. It hurts because it’s true.

Do you want to work for a company whose leaders eat first? Or a company whose leaders eat last?

Do you want to work for a company that gives awards to people who sacrifice themselves for others? Or a company that gives awards to people who sacrifice others?

If we want a better company and a bette country, we need to start choosing better leaders. Leadership is not about speaking your mind. Leadership isn’t what you say at all. Leadership is what you do.

Choose Your Leaders Carefully

In America, we choose our leaders. We choose the companies we work for. We choose the people who hold high office.

Before we ask about a candidate’s ideological purity, doesn’t it make sense to ask of every candidate: would this man or woman eat last?

If you could not imagine a candidate running into a fire fight to rescue his or her subordinates, why in God’s name would you ever put them into high office? Why would you choose a leader who would sacrifice you or your children for his or her gain or comfort?

This Week’s Poll

Which candidate for President and Missouri Governor do you believe is most likely to eat last?

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2 Awesome Military Stories for Independence Day Weekend

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I love this video. And I’m going to ask you a small favor for my son Jack, so please read all.

WARNING: Strong Language

What’s So Great About It?

You have to love this American Army sergeant telling the Iraqi police how it is in strong language. Perhaps if the Iraqi police had listened, they wouldn’t be defending Baghdad against the Islamic State right now.

But they are.

I know some of you might object to this sergeant’s direct assault on these men’s manhood and character. Don’t be. Like Patton, this sergeant knows these men need to grow spines and to take responsibility for themselves, their comrades, and their country. Not because it’s cool, but because evil men will try to take their country–and their lives–from them.

This sergeant deserves a medal.

If You Don’t Get the Sergeant’s Speech, You Don’t Understand War

People who’ve never served might not understand that war is violent. The purpose of war is to break an enemy’s will to fight, to break down an enemy’s psyche so thoroughly that the enemy society cannot function without assistance from the victory.

Like the Democratic Party, the propose of war is to make a whole race of people completely dependent on others.

Unlike the Democratic Party, the US military tries to rehabilitate the vanquished society, restore its dignity, and help its people become independent, functioning, proud citizens of their reformed nation.

That means just war is morally superior to the Democrat Party, which Alexis de Tocqueville perfectly described 176 years ago:

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. 

AT2(AW) Jack Hennessy on USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor

Independence Day isn’t a furniture sale. It’s a commemoration of a nation’s rejection of the arbitrary rule of other men. July 4th symbolizes a bold American spirit that, like the sergeant in this video, will risk everything to live as free people, free from the tyranny of unlimited state power.

And some risk more than others.

Now My Real Purpose of This Post

That’s why I spent nine years on active duty and nearly three years submerged on a submarine—to preserve and protect our republic and her people.

And that’s why I’m so proud to tell you my son Jack is re-enlisting today, July 4, on board the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Congratulations, Jack. And congratulations to the US Navy and to the United States.

Now for that small favor.

Would you mind leaving a short note to Jack in the comments of this blog post?