Saluting Veterans' Honor, Dedication and Integrity

Editor's Note:  The following remarks were delivered by Summit Common Council member Pat Hurley at the St. Teresa Veteran's Day Concert, 2014.  TAP into Summit offers them as a tribute to our men and women in uniform currently serving our country, to those who have honorably served before them, and to all those -- and their families -- who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.

"My name is Pat Hurley. I am a member of this parish, a member of Summit Common Council, and a U.S. Navy veteran. Last year I had the honor of speaking at this event and I am honored to be back here again this year.  It's great to be part of a parish that, each year, honors its veterans in a way very few places do anymore and a parish that actually has a veteran as its pastor. 

Last year, I spoke about my personal journey that took me from this very altar as a newly married Navy Ensign, to Navy flight school, to the first Persian Gulf War and, ultimately, back to Summit, and St. Teresa’s, where my wife and I have lived for the last nineteen years and raised our four children. Today, I’d like to speak about our veterans, who they are and what they mean to us.

Nobody enters the journey of military service knowing where it will lead.  But, they do know, or quickly learn, the almost super-human characteristics of impeccable honor and integrity, built upon an unwavering faith in God, are the best way to ensure their survival and, more importantly, the survival of their brothers and sisters in arms.

Modern society often has a hard time understanding their dedication to honor and integrity, even to the point where they dismiss it as military arrogance or even ignorance. But it is neither of these - Whether they are a Corporal or a Colonel, an Airman or an Admiral, they are extremely intelligent and capable young men and women who are forced, everyday, to live in terms of life and death in a dangerous and confusing world. Just take a moment and think about the life each of our service members has chosen. Think about, if, every day you woke up, and had to wonder if you would live to see the next sunrise. For most of us, it never crosses our mind. But for them it is a way of life, every hour, of every day.

And, then, are their families back home. This is a human side of military service most of us, unless you’ve lived it, will never fully understand. We often forget for every young man lost, there is usually a wife or fiancé whose life and dreams have been crushed. For every young woman lost, there is someone back home who has just lost the love of his life. And for both, more often than not, there are children who will never see their mother or father again.

Somewhere, at some time, today or tomorrow in North Carolina, the young wife of a deployed U.S. Marine will freeze in panic at the site of an official vehicle driving by her house, praying it will pass her by and hoping her children don’t sense her fear. Somewhere at sometime today or tomorrow, a Navy SEAL in his early twenties will be stepping out of the back of an airplane over, 20,000 feet in the air, after just receiving word his three year old son is at an emergency room in California with a fever of 105. Somewhere at some time, today or tomorrow, an exhausted Navy pilot will wrestle his crippled helicopter back on the pitching deck of a guided missile cruiser, in the middle of the Persian Gulf, in the black of night, after having just experience a flight control malfunction, while his daughter, back home in Virginia Beach, is at pre-school struggling to think about a Christmas without him.
These are the lives they’ve chosen, these are the lives their families were given. But, despite being a nation that has been at war for the last thirteen years, the percentage of our population that has served in the military is near an all-time low. Too much of society, it is a mystery who these heroes really are. Yet they possess attributes long lost in parts of American society.

In civilian terms, they are experts in logistics, project management, people management and financial management with a proficiency that rivals any corporate CEO anywhere in the world. But, above all else they are leaders whose skills were honed and perfected in an industry where success was measured not in terms of profit and loss but in terms of life and death. And, they are driven by, above all else, the deepest sense of personal honor and integrity, possessing character that seems all almost completely lost in today’s corporate world.

They make smart, competent and loyal friends and employees, but they follow a warrior’s ethos that is sometimes hard to understand. They are tough, outspoken and believe leaders should be held fully accountable for the performance of the organizations they lead. As managers they will celebrate the success of those who work for them while refusing to take any personal credit. They will rarely, if ever, engage in firings and lay-offs as a way to cut expenses or increase profits. They will never see themselves as just a manager, but rather as a leader who is responsible for the safety and well-being of not just every person who works under them but for their families too.

They are accountable, they expect to win, and expect perfection because, for them, the consequences of losing are too severe and quite possibly fatal. They have seen evil and had, and in many cases used, the power to kill at a young age. They’ve seen the dark side of humanity and the pain and suffering it causes to the innocent and, thus, they possess empathy and a willingness to forgive that will never be known to, and rarely understood by, those who have never served. 

And, they are fiercely protective of their families, their wives, their husbands and their children, knowing the long term affects combat deployments have had on those they left behind. The intense fear, felt every day, fear of getting that phone call, or hearing that knock at the door. While they joined to defend the values of liberty and religious freedom, they fought for one reason – to return to the ones they love.

And yet, despite representing what American should be, and what it can be, they often find themselves for months, years and even decades, struggling to survive in the America that is. As a small minority in a society that often seems to be embracing different values, or no values at all, they are also vulnerable. Veteran rates of suicide, homelessness and unemployment are at all-time highs and in many cases, they desperately need the help of those who do understand, or seek to understand, such as all of you gathered here today. Events like this mean so much to veterans and, speaking on behalf of veterans everywhere today, mean so much to me personally and to my family. So, I thank you, on behalf of all of us, from the bottom of my heart. God Bless you and God Bless America."

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