By Rick Mansfield
Greek philosopher Aristotle believed one “…will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” His teacher Plato had defined courage as “…knowing what not to fear.” Our Mark Twain defined courage as “…resistance to fear, mastery of fear; not absence of fear.”
Courage built this country. Poet T.S. Eliot thought “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” The grand experiment that is this great nation took courage. Great courage. This past week we visited several icons of courage.
We ventured off to Patriot Point in South Carolina’s Charleston. We toured the USS Yorktown, our nation’s 10th aircraft carrier placed into service in 1943. During WWII, it would earn a Presidential Unit Citation and eleven battle stars. It would remain in service into the Vietnam War.
Beside it, we toured the destroyer USS Laffey. Towards the end of WWII, it was positioned off Okinawa. On April 16, it was approached by almost fifty enemy aircraft. Endured twenty-two individual attacks by aircraft; some as kamikaze and some by dive bombers.
In a little over eighty-minutes, the destroyer and her crew suffered six kamikaze hits and four bomb hits. Thirty-two sailors would lose their lives and seventy-one more would suffer severe injuries. Captain Beckton would refuse to give up the ship during this worst case of kamikaze assault in naval history, relying on his men and his commitment to “fight back as long as just one gun would fire!”
Beckton and his crew fought fires from the planes that had crashed against his boat, bullets from planes strafing his men and the bombs that had penetrated his ship’s hull. Sailors were fighting on while shipmates besides them were being mutilated and burned alive.
We also toured Fort Sumter. The site of the first shots fired of our horrific Civil War; site of the first casualties (two men killed accidentally while firing off a salute to the flag). Where Union Major Anderson stood with eighty-seven fellow soldiers as the last symbol of Federal authority in what had become origin and focus of the Secessionist South.
Where he held out for four months against overwhelming odds until out of food, powder and hope; and after thirty-four hours of constant bombardment agreed to leave the fort. Site of where the recently formed Confederacy then held out against periodic Union bombardments for almost four years.
Visiting such iconic places is a very moving experience. To stand where brave men and women helped to shape our nation. To walk the same ground, touch and view the same artifacts and see the same sights. To momentarily attempt to relive and resurrect the emotions being felt by those involved. The actors and the victims. Fear. Hope. Regret. And, yes; courage.
Our nation has been the light of freedom for more than two centuries. Never perfect and still evolving. But it has fought back fascism on a global scale twice. It has created the highest standard of living for a greater percentage of its populace than has ever existed.
It has become popular to denigrate our past. We are a better nation because some have had the courage of which Churchill spoke to stand up; it is sad they have forgotten the rest of that quote. That “courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Travels such as we just took gives one the chance to do that. To sit and listen. Perhaps, with courage. Thanks for joining us!