It was half-a-century ago. World War II was behind us, and the Korean Conflict had hit the history books. What was current was something called the COLD WAR. The world was rife with daily tensions between the United States and the USSR. The atom bomb that ended the war in the Pacific had morphed into an ever-escalating race to develop increasingly volatile nuclear weapons and defense systems.
Diplomatic “brinkmanship” prevailed in international relations. Everyday life seemed to go along as usual, but fearful anxiety was ever-present under the surface. One of the first tests in this tension was the Berlin Airlift. The Air Force flew humanitarian supplies into East Berlin over the wall that had been created to keep the free world out.
The U.S. kept a standing army poised for combat in Germany. A command known as “COM-Z” provided logistical support for those troops. Within that command was another known as “BASEC,” which stood for “base-section.” That’s where I served for two years at the Army’s 319th Station Hospital at Bussac General Depot in France.
Military life during the Cold War was a mixture of routine and readiness. I recall times when we moved out in convoy to set up a field hospital for several days of combat training exercises. One “alert” was different in 1958 when President Eisenhower sent a contingent of Marines into Beirut, Lebanon. Ordinance for that operation was shipped from Bussac by the trainload.
We had a motto during the Cold War that stood at the heart of who we were as United States troops: “Duty-Honor-County.” Those three words were central to our mission and bespoke a positive thread that laced our lives together at home and abroad. As a Cold War veteran, I have a license plate bracket on my car with those words. Every day I am reminded how essential that slogan was, and still needs to be, at the center of our national life.
Today wars and political incidents test our resolve to stand for freedom in a world where it is always threatened. It troubles me that we don’t stand with a central slogan like duty, honor, country binding us together, undergirding our society. Instead, we seem to have drifted into suspicion, distrust, bullying, and tribalism. Such does not strengthen us. It pulls apart the fabric of our national welfare.
“Duty” suggests a responsibility to contribute to the common good. We each pitch in and do our part. It isn’t all about “me.” It’s all about “us,” at our best, seeking the best for others. It makes our differences secondary to a sense of community. It allows for individuation without cut-offs. It’s a lofty ideal much in sync with the founding principles of our nation.
“Country” is our unique sense of place, nationhood, traditions, beliefs, and vision. We value patriotism, loyalty to our principles, and commitment to the common good. We are “Americans” first and foremost, and we pull together to resolve problems and enhance life for generations yet to come.
These are just a few thoughts to sprinkle over the mix of crucial challenges requiring us to be consciously grounded in ideals that transcend the muddled fray of tension that engulfs us. The first Cold War officially ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the reunification of Germany. Tensions, however, have continued to fester. Today it appears we are engaged in another COLD WAR, with nuclear threats, diplomatic leveraging, and challenges to individual and national integrity.
Perhaps in such a time we should dial-up again that motto, “Duty-Honor-Country” to keep ourselves grounded in the promise America offers at its best.