In the mountains of Afghanistan, 29-year-old Navy Lt. Michael Murphy was leading a four-man team on a mission to capture a Taliban leader. Suddenly, some 40 insurgents opened fire from three sides. Lt. Murphy exposed himself to enemy fire to get a clear signal in order to radio for help. Despite being shot repeatedly, Murphy calmly gave his unit’s location and requested immediate support for his team.
Lt. Murphy died of wounds that day two years ago. I was deeply moved by his story, which is recounted in Marcus Luttrell’s riveting bestseller, but R-rated book, Lone Survivor. For his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor last month. As President Bush noted during the ceremony, attended by Murphy’s parents, “With this medal we acknowledge a debt that will not diminish with time and can never be repaid.”
The Medal of Honor—the highest of all military honors—is not often awarded. And yet, several of our biggest news outlets did not see fit to cover this event. This is appalling. When editors omit stories of heroism, they not only demean the sacrifice of our servicemen, they also deny America’s young needed examples of love of country.
Walter Berns, author of the book Making Patriots, argues that patriots are made, not born—that we have to be taught to love our country. He also believes that this love, though necessary to our nation’s very survival, does not come easily. That’s because it is human nature to put ourselves first.
And yet, cemeteries both at home and abroad are full of Americans who did give their lives for their country—and are doing so today in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their sacrifice reminds us that, in order for America and its ideals to flourish, we have to teach our kids that there are things more important than simply fulfilling their own desires.
It is not enough to show people that it is in their selfish interests that the country prospers. We have to remind them of what our nation’s creed says: that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Those words rang in my ears when I signed up to serve in the marines during wartime.
Our nation’s promise is a declaration of the rights and freedoms of everyone. So we each have a higher standard to meet than simply looking out for number one. Sadly, we have often fallen short of that standard, arbitrarily denying rights to one group or another. But whenever we did, we knew it was wrong; we worked to correct it; and most of the time, we have succeeded. If we truly believe in the ideal of freedom for all people, we will keep reminding our countrymen of what we stand for and why patriotism to our flag is noble—something for which any good citizen is willing to sacrifice.
How do we teach young people to love their country? Tell them about heroes like Michael Murphy and teach them to love goodness and freedom—and remind them that these are the ideals America was founded to preserve and promote. Talk to them about duty.
It is the only way we can guarantee that those ideals will survive, in America and around the world. What better time than Veterans Day to remind our youth of these precious truths—and of those who offer the ultimate sacrifice to preserve them.