by Kevin Shannahan
This Friday, I had the privilege of being a guest at Northwestern State University’s Army ROTC Commissioning ceremony as four superb young Americans became Army officers. NSU joined colleges from across the country as men and women of every race and background “…do solemnly swear that I will defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” To witness a commissioning ceremony is to see a celebration of America at its best.
The ceremony and oath are short and simple, a rite of passage as old as America that will continue as long as our Nation endures; each generation taking its place in the hard, dangerous-and necessary-work of the defense of our country. From Saratoga, through Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Bastogne, Pusan, the Ia Drang Valley, Mosul, Kandahar and any number of miserable, dangerous places, citizen-soldiers have carried America’s faith and honor against her enemies. All over America, young men and women such as these four lieutenants from NSU will be entrusted with our nation’s most precious resource, the lives of the men and women under their command. It is an awesome and humbling responsibility.
No one can see the future. We do not know from whence trouble will come, only that it will. When it does, the finest young men and women this nation has to offer will meet it. In We Were Soldiers Once, a movie about General Hal Moore and the men of 1st battalion, 7th Cavalry in the Battle of Ia Drang, the actor playing the Lt Col Moore gives a speech to his assembled troops before they leave for Vietnam. He speaks of the diversity of the men of the Battalion. He speaks of the discrimination some of them face in society. He then says “For you and me now, all that is gone. We are moving into the valley of the shadow of death where you will watch the back of the man next to you as he will watch yours. …. They say we are leaving home.” He shakes his head. “We are going to what home was always supposed to be.” I was reminded of that quote as I looked around the room. Two of the officers commissioned that day were not born in the United States. There were men and women of different races, ages, backgrounds, and religions in the room, all united by one thing. They wore, or had worn, the uniform of the United States.
Of the thousands of officers commissioned through ROTC, most will serve as reservists; others will go on full time active duty. Some, like General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, will go on to great things from a humble beginning. Most will return to civilian life in a few years, their lives enriched by their service. Located in colleges across the country, ROTC is a huge force for social mobility.
When I stood and saluted during the National Anthem and watched the ceremony, the years melted away. It was once again a fine summer’s day in “…this eighth day of June in the year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and eighty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the two-hundred and ninth…” at a small college in Georgia where I was commissioned in the Air Force. The subsequent thirty-six years have been quite an adventure. I have no idea where my college diploma is, but my commissioning certificate is framed and hanging in my den. Many thanks to the commander for inviting me, and Godspeed Lieutenants Galarza, Garcia, Lewis and Guzman!
The Natchitoches Parish Journal is donating the event photography. Anyone may download any photos they wish.