Byron's Babbles

Veteran Leadership

Posted in Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 5, 2011

This week and next I will be reflecting on Veteran’s Day. During this reflection I am taken back to a day in 2004 that defined my view of our Veterans and leadership. This defining moment happened at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004 and was dedicated one month later on May 29. I was there in July of that year. It is located on 17th Street, between Constitution and Independence Avenues, and is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west. The World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States, the more that 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort at home.

If you have not been to the memorial I have to tell you it is first of all very moving and each state has a pillar dedicated to all those who serve and died. My special moment happened in front of the Indiana pillar. I saw a gentleman standing in front of our pillar wearing his navy attire. I asked him if he served in World War II and he proudly exclaimed yes. I promptly thanked him for his service and keeping America and the rest of the world free.

I then asked him where he served. He said in the Navy and that he was involved in the invasion of Normandy Beach on D-Day. Having been to Normandy beach, I was very interested in hearing his story. He said, “son, I never saw the beach. My job was to blow the hell out of that beach to make it safe for our landing parties.” He went on to tell me that from there position he could not even see the beach. Then his eyes teared up and he went on to explained that he was sure his gunning had hurt or killed innocent people, but it was something that had to be done.

Then the comment that would change my view of Veterans and leadership forever. Barely controlling his emotions he said, “Son I was doing my job from a safe distance while thousands and thousands were dying. My regret is that I did not have the opportunity that day to lose my life for my country and a cause I believed in.” Here was a man who regretted not be able to perform the ultimate act of servant leadership.

We talk a lot about servant leadership, but we can sure learn a great deal from our veterans. Every day they put themselves in harms way with the possibility of having to conduct the ultimate servant leadership activity – dying for our safety and freedom.

Think about this next time you are having trouble being a true servant leader.

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