My West Point classmate, Sue Fulton, recently completed her term as a member and chair of the Board of Visitors of the US Military Academy. Her farewell remarks seem appropriate for sharing on the eve of the Army-Navy football game:
“It has been an extraordinary privilege to serve on this Board for the past 8½ years. Like many of you, as a cadet I never imagined I would have the opportunity to advise the leaders of this great institution. Today’s staff and faculty do a great job sharing their experiences, especially their down-range experiences, to mentor and coach cadets.
I was a cadet in the late 1970s. My instructors were Captains and Majors who had served in Vietnam. They shared their lessons too.
The memories of the battlegrounds were fresh in their minds – as were experiences like My Lai and other atrocities. There was one particular lesson I recall most clearly because it was the most unexpected and yet universal, not only from instructors of Law and military science but also from Social Sciences, English, International Relations, Engineering…
If you are given an unlawful order, it is your duty to disobey. Yes. They taught us to disobey orders. The rule of law, your oath to the Constitution, ALWAYS, ALWAYS comes first. And THAT was the lesson most important to them.
They referenced Nuremberg and Auschwitz – but made it clear that Quang Tri Province and the Mekong Delta could be crime scenes as well.
These men – yes, in the late 70s my instructors were uniformly men – had been scarred by the betrayal of our honor and our character by some of our own officers downrange and by some in the highest levels of leadership. So they argued for the strength to say NO to an illegal order from a superior officer, to risk your career and your livelihood in service to what we stand for.
Former West Point Superintendent Bob Caslen said it best: you can get everything else right, but if you’re not a leader of character, nothing else matters. You can be number 1 in your class, but if you’re not a leader of character, it doesn’t matter.
I hope that in years to come, West Point graduates who were on the ground in our nation’s capital, and who observe those in positions of national leadership today, will bring back to the Academy the lessons we need so desperately.
That no matter how high you rise, you cannot sacrifice these values. I hope they measure the character of Bill Taylor, class of ’69, against the character of those West Pointers in high office who fall far short of his integrity, his personal courage, his faithful adherence to Duty, Honor, Country.
Our Republic hangs in the balance. And the character of our graduates – their willingness to sacrifice their personal advancement and benefit to these values – WILL make a difference.
Character must be our top priority.
Not physical fitness.
Not academic achievement.
Not Army football.
Not even “winning.”
Teach THIS. Inscribe THIS on their hearts. The price of failure is too high. Thank you for the honor of a lifetime, to serve the leadership of this great institution, this monument to Selfless Service of our nation.
May we all strive to live the ideals of Duty Honor Country.
#ArmyNavy #SelflessService #LeadersOfCharacter