To follow are some remarks I gave yesterday at Tufts University in observance of Veterans Day in the United States — my first since I retired from the Navy and became a veteran:

What a pleasure it is to be with all of you today on Veterans Day.

As I thought about making these brief remarks, I first remembered my own father, a veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam.  He was a proud Colonel of Marines, and infantry officer, and a graduate of Cornell and Notre Dame.  He was the son of Greek immigrants, and throughout his life loved his country.  EVERY Veterans and Memorial Day were events in our house, and it started me on the path of military service.

I spent four years at Annapolis and the US Naval Academy.  After I graduated in 1976, I sailed the world for 37 years, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I was proud of my service in the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Since my retirement a few months ago, I am now a Veteran.

My daughter Julia just took her commission in the Navy, and is the third on my side of the family and the fourth on her Mom’s side of the family. She has chosen another path in military service, that of medicine.  She studied Nursing at Georgetown and is today an Ensign in the US Navy and a Navy Nurse working at the National Medical Center, Walter Reed, at Bethesda, Maryland.  We are all proud of her — she has a great grandfather who was an Army Colonel, one grandfather a Marine, another a Navy Captain, and of course yours truly as a father.  So she is getting lots of advice from various Veterans to say the least.

As I look back on my family business of military service, I think there are three things I would like to mention today:

First, all of us in the military and Veterans are lucky to be in the United States, where the military is held in high esteem — most polls show the military, along with firefighters and police, as at the top of respect accorded in public life.  People often say to me, *thank you for your service,* and I appreciate that a great deal.  I am old enough to remember Vietnam and the way the country reacted to Veterans of that conflict in the 1970s. That has changed entirely and today our military is well respected and very well treated by the nation.  In return, our Veterans and active duty military feel very luck and proud to defend a nation that holds us with such respect and visible care.

Second, the idea of service is far broader than simply in the military. I would argue that many others serve this nation very powerfully in a wide variety of programs and walks of life.  I have deep respect for the Peace Corps Volunteers, the Teach for America Cadres, for public servants who defend us, repair our roads, pick up our trash, educate our children, and every single day create the fabric of the society that the military protects.  In my own case, when my time in uniform was over, I wanted to continue a life of service that is why I chose to come here and work as an educator.  That too is vital and important service to our country, and to all who are veterans of such good work, I say *thank you for YOUR service,* including to the many people here today from this superb national University, Tufts.

Third and finally, it is important to note that today we have an all-volunteer force.  I was the very first High School graduating class, 1972, that did not face a draft.  As the war in Vietnam wound down, the draft was stopped.  So I went to Annapolis as a volunteer, and every person to don a uniform since that long ago date — 40 years ago — is likewise a volunteer.  It is volunteers who protect us every day, all around the world.

So I will close with a story of other Veterans, volunteers as well, in the Greek military 2,500 years ago, at a place called Salamis, a small bay outside of Athens.

In the year 480 BC, the Persians were invading and had rolled up the Greek defenses.  Only Athens stood between the Persian Emperor Xerxes and a final, shattering victory over the Greeks and their democratic society.

The Persian Fleet was vast and outnumbered the Greeks by more than five to one.  It would be a naval battle, fought between the heavily armed and rowed vessels called Triremes, of Greece and Persia, each manned by soldiers and rowers.

Line drawing of a Greek Trireme, a heavily armed and rowed vessel

By F. Mitchell, Department of History, United States Military Academy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It looked very bleak for the Greeks — but there was a crucial difference between the Fleets.  The Persian Fleet was manned entirely by conscripts and slaves — draftees, if you will.  The Athenian Fleet was manned by volunteers, free citizens of the Athenian republic.

And knowing this crucial difference, the night before the battle, the Athenian Admiral, Themistocles, gathered the captains for the many Triremes in the Athenian Fleet — and told them to gather their men on the morning before the battle and tell them:

Today you must row for your wives and your children.

Today you must row for your parents.

Today you must row for your city.

And Today you must row for Freedom.

The Athenians destroyed the Persian Fleet, and saved their city — and democracy — and the ideas of freedom that we cherish today.

So on this Veterans Day, I ask that you join me in a toast to all of our veterans and our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — a toast to all who ROW FOR FREEDOM.

6 Responses to A Veterans Day Toast to Those ‘Who Row for Freedom’

  1. Serena Joseph-Harris says:

    Thank you Admiral for your very inspiring remarks. In particular,I deeply appreciate the centrality given to SERVICE of service which is at the heart of our vocation. Very often I have heard veterans bemoan the difficulty experienced in adapting to civilian life after a life-long tour in the military. Although this may be understandable, the underpinning role of service among the armed forces should be constantly in view irrespective of the nature and duration of missions. Should this be the case the transition at the end of tour would be a more seamless one for many. Best regards.


    It is normal that after 40 years spent mostly sea life, which is not easy to adapt to civilian life to be so heavy. However I appreciate the desire to share experience with young students from many hours dedicated to study. I know more elaborately prepared courses, are self-taught and do not leave anything to chance. Glad to hear that your origins are linked to Greece, which have a cult. It’s great to not look traditions, ancestors and we are proud of it. I always watch with interest your academic and everything you post for those who appreciate your work. All respect and appreciation for you.

  3. Alvin Burris says:

    Inspiring Admiral! The Goat Locker is proud to have served with you.

  4. Milos Puaca says:

    Thank you for your families’ service, Admiral.

    It is important to remember that those who rowed get an opportunity to row in employment. It is unfortunate that some EEO metrics are aimed at who an employer “talks” to rather than hires.

    I was in the Army and I remember what my father taught me about struggle. In any unit, there are sentries (who observe and report problems) and then there are warriors who tend to address those problems. Sentries do not sleep during the night. They are concerned – afraid, in some cases – about what they (think they) hear and see. They sleep poorly from worry. True warriors sleep like babies because they struggle completely and fall asleep exhausted. When there are no warriors, there is no struggle. When there are no sentries, warriors do not know all of the concerns and problems.

  5. Tom Kartsotis says:

    We are proud of growing up with the first Stavridis immigrants in Allentown PA. From the early 1900’s the three Stavridis generations have made successes and contributions to our country. The Fletcher School of Tufts is fortunate to have Dean James Stavridis share his leadership and experiences. A unique family!

  6. Theodore Pantazopoulos says:

    A fine speech. Clearly illustrates the superior fighting spirit of free peoples over tranny.