Monday, May 26, 2014

U.S. Army Colonel Everett Spain Shares His Thoughts On Memorial Day

The Boston Marathon's finish-line approach, on April 15th, 2013.  
Everett Spain is near the base of the US flagpole.

I am honored and pleased to be able to share with readers of The White Rhino Report this special Memorial Day message from my good friend, Colonel Everett Spain.

My name is Everett Spain, and I am a Soldier.  Several friends asked me to share these comments, and I agreed to do so as part of our nation's ongoing commitment to remember those who have been given the ultimate sacrifice while defending the cause of freedom for others, including several personal friends.  As I have reflected on this Memorial Day weekend, I have been encouraged to extend the scope of my remembrance to include – not only those who have died in our nation's wars – but also those who have perished, or were wounded in incidents like the Boston Marathon bombings one year ago.  For reasons that I do not understand, God saw it fit to have me placed at the site of the first bomb detonation.  Following are the remarks I offered a few weeks ago at a ceremony at Harvard University, which has lost over 1,350 of its sons and daughters in military uniform since the Revolutionary War, and which has 18 Medal of Honor recipients, many of them posthumously.  I offer these thoughts with humility and the deepest respect, gratitude, and admiration for those who have fallen and whom we remember this Memorial Day.  I am proud such men and women lived.

For context, this recent online article details much of the story: 


Soldiers' Medal Ceremony Comments
Everett S. P. Spain, Colonel, US Army
Friday, April 18th, 2014
U.S. Flagpole, Baker Lawn, Harvard Business School
3:30 PM

About a year ago, as Steve and I approached the finish line, it was overcast, and I was actually a little cold.  Today reminds me of that day. 

General (Bill) Rapp, thank you for those undeservedly kind comments.  Thank you to my true friend Major Carl Oborski those few others who knew what happened and documented and submitted this recognition on my behalf.  Also, thank you to all in attendance for coming, especially those of you who came many miles to join our families. 

I did not intend to speak today, but some dear friends told me I had to.  So please forgive me if the words don't come out right.

First, I'm no hero.  I'm just a work in progress trying to be a decent husband, father, classmate, colleague, citizen, SOLDIER and friend, while often falling short.  No one knows this more than I, except maybe my love Julia.  I'm simply undeserving of special recognition.  But today I stand among heroes.  There are several families of the fallen and survivor families here today.  We marvel at your resilience, your courage.  You inspire us.  We love how you persevere, day after day, and how you aren't letting anything stop you as you heal and take care of others along the way.  You are the true heroes and we all salute you (salute them).  
No, I am no hero- but I am a Soldier.  And I know that every service member who has served, or who will serve in the uniform of our nation, as well as their family members, would have done the same thing I did on that day, or more.   It is just what we do.  Also, numerous others from all walks of life would have done the same, and many did. 
Though I am undeserving of this award, I reluctantly accept it, but only on behalf of the survivor families, the many other first responders, and my own family.  Did you know that every service-member's uniform tells a story?  Mine is no different, so this is now a part of my story.  If you look closely at the colored ribbon of this medal, it has six vertical crimson stripes.  We read in the book of Isaiah: "And with His stripes we are healed."  These six healing crimson stripes represent the courage and dignity of all of the survivor families affected that day, but especially to the six families here today.  You will always be with me and my family wherever we go.  The Campbell Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Brassard Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Valverde-Perez Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Kensky-Downes Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Epstein-Reny Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Sabra Family, Crimson Stripe.   

In addition to the distinguished families sitting in the front, there are countless other individuals here today who place the needs of others before their own needs daily.  They are also Heroes.  Indeed, I stand among heroes this afternoon.  And it inspires me to be in your individual and collective company.

As Steve Sabra (visually impaired runner) and I were running the last 7 miles of the race, my favorite thing was to run close to the guardrails, where there was almost always a big crowd, and I would hold Steve's hand out to the right and he would high five literarily dozens of runners every few seconds.  I would move his hand up and down to connect with the cheering Bostonians as we ran by, and it was good.

Second, I wish I could go back in time and change what happened that day, but I can't.  
So over the past year I have thought a lot about what it means to be a true friend, to love and to be loved, and to be a part of a family.  

I have learned being a true friend means "I will carry your sorrows and joys on my shoulders".  

I have learned true love asks "where do I end and you begin?"  

I have learned that being a part of a family means when one is in need, they will rush to your side, and when the dust settles, they will remain unconditionally.

Yes, let's carry each other's sorrows and joys on our shoulders.  Let's love so we don't know where we end and they begin.   Let's remain steadfast by our friends and family in need.  And we are all in need.

This run happens on Patriots day, which is the anniversary of when our forefathers, a bunch of farmers had the courage to stand up to the occupiers and demand freedom- this happened at the Old North Bridge in Concord, about 15 from here- it is one of  my favorite places in the world.  "By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April's breeze unfurled, once here the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world."  Can you imagine that courage? 

Third, several people have asked me why I ran towards the smoke.  That is a difficult question to answer.   What I do know is that I have been blessed by the investment others have made into my character develop throughout my lifetime.

The Spain Family ran towards the smoke- as a boy, my parents role modeled how to be an upstander, a person who deliberately stands up for people who are unable to stand up for themselves.

The Boy Scouts ran towards the smoke- they taught me to help others daily

The Church ran towards the smoke - they taught me to be willing to lay down my life for another

West Point ran towards the smoke- they taught me selfless service and Duty

Harvard University ran towards the smoke- they expected me to be a leader who makes a difference in this world

The US Military ran towards the smoke- they taught me to never leave a fallen comrade

The American spirit ran towards the smoke.   I once heard a young man summarize this American spirit when he said, "There are evil people in the world who want to hurt others or take others' freedoms away.  But if they try it, first they are going to have to deal with me".

No, I can say with perfect honestly that it wasn't me who ran towards the smoke.   But the values deliberately imprinted on me by my faith, my family, my friends, my mentors, and many character-building institutions over time, and our American spirit, those values ran towards the smoke that day.

Finally, I'd like to close with a few observations.

Darkness- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by light.

Fear- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by hope.

Anger- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by forgiveness.

Inadequacy- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by Grace

Hate- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by Love.

Ben Johnston is a young West Point graduate who now lives in Boston,  and he recently wrote a song we are about to play to honor those affected by last year's events.  He is a veteran of two combat tours leading Soldiers, and was a kidney donor to a stranger in need.  He is one of the many heroes among us I described earlier.  As you listen to the song Ben wrote for all us, and I think the words may be in your programs, I ask you lift the families affected by this incident up in your thoughts and prayers, for their continued strength and healing, and for good to continue to prevail in this world.  Today, as always, I am reminded of what survivor Patrick Downes, who is here today, said this week on behalf of many of the survivors and their families:  "We chose to love, and that has made all the difference".
[the following links to the song:]

Thank you again for coming today, and may God bless you all.

(The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.)

The above graphic was drawn by Colonel Ryan Janovic, a dear friend of Everett's who attended the ceremony (and who currently serves in the Department of the Army Staff, Pentagon). 

No comments: