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.
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.
Tagged with: Afghanistan • Annapolis • Cold War • Dean Stavridis • Greeks • Iraq • Marine • military • Navy • Peace Corps Volunteers • Persian Emperor Xerxes • Persian Gulf War • Persians • Stavridis • Teach for America Cadres • Themistocles • Triremes • US Naval Academy • veteran • Veterans • volunteerism • volunteers
Dean Stavridis with his basset hound, Lilly.
Dean James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander.