Thank You, Master Sergeant Lee

By | February 13, 2017 | 0 Comments


Unarmed men, and unarmed nations, can only flee from evil. And evil is not overcome by fleeing from it.
Jeff Cooper

I grew up in a liberal home. But in those days, “liberal” was used in the classical sense ‒ it didn’t mean “progressive” or “leftist,” as it does now. John Kennedy campaigned on a platform of strengthening our defenses. Under Kennedy, over half the federal budget went for defense. Now, despite two ongoing wars, only about 15% of the budget goes for defense, representing only about 3.5% of the gross domestic product.

Kennedy was strongly anti-communist. Back then, most Democrats, including labor leaders, shared this view. Unlike labor leaders in Europe, our labor leaders followed the example of the founder of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers.

Gompers understood that capitalism is the greatest generator of wealth. He famously remarked, “The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.” Compare this to current liberals, for whom profit is a dirty word − often preceded by “excess,” “bloated,” or even “obscene.”

Kennedy also campaigned for cutting taxes to stimulate the economy. When a questioner complained that this would benefit the rich more than the poor, Kennedy retorted, “A rising tide raises all boats.” Someone who said this today would be called a puppet of Wall Street, or worse.

But now, “liberal” means leftist. Loathing of American economic power is linked to loathing of American military power. If our economy can be weakened with stifling regulations, crippling taxes, bloated welfare programs, monstrous debt, and nationalization, there will be much less wealth available to sustain military forces.

Then who will defend freedom around the world? Who will restrain nuclear-armed rogue states like North Korea or, soon, Iran? Who will suppress terrorism and piracy? Who will counterbalance Russia or China when they act aggressively? No one, that’s who.

I wish today’s leftists could have met Sergeant Lee.

I never knew his first name. To me and the other boys in his high-school ROTC class, it was “Sergeant.” In those days, in the Army, even master sergeants were addressed simply as “sergeant.” Even the rowdiest boys shut up when Sergeant Lee entered the room. We knew to whom we owed our freedom.


On his uniform, Lee wore a silver representation of a rifle on a blue background. I admired this badge, thinking it was for marksmanship. I soon learned it was the Combat Infantry Badge, meaning that he had served in ground combat. Below it was a ribbon I did recognize. The Purple Heart signified that he had been wounded in action.

I learned about military uniforms and insignia by the time I was 14. But Barack Obama still hadn’t learned by the time he was president. He twice referred to a Navy corpsman (medic) as “corpse-man.” Such profound ignorance reveals a profound lack of interest in military matters, which ill behooves the commander-in-chief of our armed forces. I’ll bet serious money that President Trump knows how to pronounce “corpsman.”

We were taught that freedom has a price, one which Sergeant Lee had paid, and which we might be called upon to pay. We were being reminded that citizenship carries obligations as well as privileges, a lesson rarely taught today.

We were taught the obligations of manhood. But now, both “obligations” and “manhood” are politically incorrect concepts. Men aren’t merely sexually mature males. Real men take responsibility for the support of their families, and if necessary for the defense of their country.

But now, we kicked ROTC off campuses, then wonder why boys don’t grow into men willing to defend their families and fellow citizens. We kicked the Boy Scouts out as well, then wonder why boys don’t grow up trustworthy and loyal. We swallowed the fiction that boys become men without guidance. They don’t. Only weeds grow spontaneously.

One day our class met on the rifle range. Yes, there was a rifle range in the basement of Washington High School in San Francisco. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there wasn’t one shooting during my years at this multiethnic urban school. There wasn’t a stabbing either, though most boys carried knives – Boy Scout knives.

That’s right ‒ we shot .22 rifles, not air rifles. And we drilled using real Army M1 rifles with the firing pins removed, not with rubber toys as they do today. My rifle dated from the early 1940s. I wondered what stories of combat it would tell if it could speak.

Shootings aren’t caused by guns, or stabbings by knives, any more than beatings are caused by fists. They are caused by young males who were allowed to grow up without moral values, and whose only male role models may be rappers and gang members. Someone like Sergeant Lee could make a difference in the lives of today’s boys, just as he did in our lives.

Lee lectured us on gun safety. In mid-sentence, he put his hand on the rifle lying on the desk and pulled the trigger. The deafening bang of the blank permanently embedded the lesson that every gun was assumed to be loaded until we personally checked it, and that a gun should never be pointed at anything we were not willing to destroy. Today we babble about “gun safety,” really meaning gun confiscation, but Lee actually taught gun safety.

I recall my pride as Lee handed me a .22 rifle. I was 14, and being handed my first gun by a combat veteran meant more than my youthful vocabulary could express. Later I realized that this represented entry into manhood. In effect, I was telling the world, “Yes, I accept the obligations of being a man, even though they may be difficult or even dangerous.”

It may have looked like a rifle, but it was really a baton that was being passed. Sgt. Lee had run his lap really well in the great relay race ‒ now it was my turn.

In being handed my first gun by Sergeant Lee rather than by a gang member, I formed a different ideal of manhood toward which to strive. I learned that a gun is a tool for defending freedom ‒ not for robbing convenience stores. I was luckier than many boys today.

My father was a physician. I respected him. But because he had served as a private in the infantry in wartime, I respected him even more. Boys’ drive to be macho should be guided into positive channels, not repressed – only to erupt in antisocial directions.

For a generation, we watched movies depicting our troops as would-be “Nazis,” forgetting who saved us from real Nazis. We heard our troops described as “terrorists,” forgetting who is saving us from real terrorists. We tried to rid ourselves of anything positive about our troops, assuming – against all historical evidence – that we would never need them again. Well, now we need them.

Sergeant Lee, and so many like him, bequeathed us our freedom. If we don’t fight to preserve it now, both at home and abroad, what will we say when we have to face them − and explain how we squandered their costly legacy, while devoting ourselves to selfish pursuits, meaningless amusements, and political squabbling? As I recall, Lee was an easygoing fellow, but I believe he would be really angry and disappointed at our apathy and indifference.

Master Sergeant Lee ran a far more outstanding lap than the one I’m running. But I’m still carrying the baton he handed me, and I’m not done yet.

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