They died for US

May 28, 2017

Their number today stands at but forty-four. Yet in all the thousands of years of human history, these few, these forty-four are newcomers to the fold. Modern day footnotes one a timeline that carries such names as Leonidas,Alexander, Caesar and dozens upon dozens more.

There are good ones, bad ones, a bulge of mediocre in the middle and a handful of great ones sit atop the rest.

Their accomplishments, their quirks, their habits, fill thousands upon thousands of biographical pages, but it is only the title, that single,common title that makes them all so uncommon when compared to other men.

The title of Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States.

Other than being a citizen, thirty five years of age or older, and “been fourteen years a resident within the United States.”, the Constitution leaves the qualifications to carry that title up to the American people and their voting booths. No prior military service is required, and the only oath to be taken is to the Constitution itself.

Those scant qualifications aside, a full thirty three of our current list of forty-four had at least some form of military service before becoming the commander of all of them.

Positions held prior to assuming command include fourteen vice-presidents, ten governors, five senators, three secretaries of state, a couple House representatives, one businessman, and various other ministry and cabinet positions.

Of the five whose most recent position prior to the Presidency was a military one,Washington, Grant and Eisenhower stand out.

As Commander of the Continental Army and the leader that somehow managed to wrest away from the most powerful military of the time the right of thirteen colonies to govern themselves the choice of George Washington to be the nation’s first President and Commander in Chief was, dare I say, a “no brainer” during his time.

Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth to hold the title came to power as the general who put down the confederacy and secured the Union, yet his performance in office and numerous corruption scandals during his tenure has left scholars to place him in the bottom fourth of historical rankings.

Dwight D. Eisenhower became the thirty fourth President on January 20th, 1953 and was perhaps the most reluctant man to assume the position since Washington. The man who as Supreme Allied Commander Europe had led the armies that freed a continent from the Nazis wanted nothing to do with politics. Yet, as Washington did in his time, when his nation called, he served.

Yet in a twist of irony that history all too often provides, America’s three most costly wars were overseen by Commanders in Chief that had either no or scant military service and experience.

The closest Abraham Lincoln, the man who saved the Union and commanded Grant, had come to combat was burying the dead who had during the Black Hawk War of 1832.

Woodrow Wilson who oversaw World War I was a proud southerner who history records as having no inclination to serve militarily choosing instead a career in academia.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to serve during the Spanish American War but the measles got in the way and when America entered World War I he asked to resign his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to secure an officer’s commission but was denied his request by Commander in Chief, President Wilson.

Six men of history, mixed in background and service yet each representative of one of our Founding Fathers most precious gifts to future generations: civilian control over the military.

That no matter the cause, no matter the campaign, those who donned the uniform, those who took up the call, would do so under the orders not of a dictator or King but under the command of a President duly elected by the people.

The American Memorial Day is unique among nations not because it is American, but because no other nation on earth can declare that for over two centuries continuous its men and women of all races and religions who have paid the ultimate sacrifice did so in service to a country governed by themselves and no other.

So while we mourn them, remember them, and honor them, let us never forget that what sets them apart from all others isn’t where or when they served, but WHO they served: US.

God rest their souls, each and every one.

Publisher Note:  A version of this column first appeared in the May 28, 2017 print edition of the Joplin Globe

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