I enlisted in the United States Army as a
private during the Korean War. After working my way up to corporal I
attended Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia and
was commissioned a second lieutenant. Six months later I married my
childhood sweetheart, Charlene. We had met one spring day when she was
ten and I was thirteen. By the end of the summer I had proposed marriage
and she had accepted! Four days after she graduated from high school we
My father was a steel worker; her father was
a coal miner. Both families were part European, part African and part
Native American. Growing up both of us felt the sting of racism,
classism and elitism. Yet, with Charlene at my side, I rose to the rank
of Major General in the United States Army and later worked for the
Carter, Reagan and the first Bush Administration.
Along the way we learned many things. We
learned that women bear a heavy burden when they are married to
high-powered spouses climbing the ladders of executive careers. If
Charlene had not been successful meeting the many expectations placed
upon her because she was married to me, I could not have succeeded. In
those days the institution of the military required that officer’s wives
perform designated duties. How well or poorly the wife performed
directly impacted on the success of the officer’s career.
So Charlene faced daunting social pressures
while living in foreign lands, meeting world leaders and making visits
to the White House. Serving as my First Lady at a number of military
installations and units, she prayed her way through the fears and
sometimes, the depression, related to the stress of her
responsibilities. Sadly she also faced, with me, grief over the loss of
a child. (Charlene and I are both published authors. Her book, The
General’s Lady, recounts in detail the challenges of being the wife of a
successful Army officer. My book is From Private to General).
Another lesson we learned is that there are
challenges for every person whether they were raised with wealth or
without means. If you were blessed by being born to a rich or important
family, you should thank God for it. But if you wish to live a
worthwhile life, you shouldn’t rest on your family’s money or social
standing. Work hard and achieve even more than others in your family,
and don’t limit your efforts to academia or business. Work in public
service as well.
If you were born to a poor family, you should
strive to be the person in the family that future generations can point
to with pride. You should strive to reach levels of importance and
accomplishment that your ancestors never dreamed possible.
Next, we learned that you should always stay
true to your beliefs and values. How can young people today develop
appropriate beliefs and value systems when there is so much confusion
and conflicting information as to what is proper? For most of us,
foundational beliefs and values are developed by listening to our
parents and by being a part of a community of faith. But what if home
life is such that you don’t learn to properly value things that are
important, or if your family is not affiliated with a community of
faith? Then hopefully you will learn values and basic common sense from
your schoolteachers and school administrators, or from membership in
organizations like the Boy or Girl Scouts.
We have met young people who, even without
help and guidance, have been able to develop a sense of enduring values
and beliefs on their own simply by studying the lives and writings of
outstanding men and women of history: people like President George
Washington, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver, Ralph Bunche,
Mother Theresa, or Golda Meier … there is an endless list.
Consider the life of Sir Winston Churchill,
the Prime Minister of Great Britain during WWII. It is acknowledged far
and wide that his individual contributions played a pivotal role in
saving his country and the Western world from NAZI domination. Had he
not encouraged the timid hearts of the people of England, the British
might now be speaking German.
Just about everyone remembers Churchill’s
famous words delivered to students at his old school of Harrow: “Never
give in.” But most people stop quoting there and never go on to finish
the rest of the sentence: “never give in, never, never, never, never-in
nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to
convictions of honor and good sense.” That is another lesson Charlene
and I have learned. We have learned the importance of honor and good
sense and never to be so open minded that all of our values and common
sense run out.
We also learned that the lost people of our
generation -- the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and those who kill
others without emotion or remorse -- are unable to dream. They cannot
imagine what it’s like to be anything other than where and what they are
at a given instant in time. That’s why merely sharing advice or a dream
with them is not enough. Somewhere deep down inside them must be
imparted an ability and desire to visualize hope, to rise above habit,
above accident of birth and the normal adversities of life.
You may be a thug, prostitute or drug dealer,
but in America it is possible for you to overcome such circumstances and
become an entrepreneur, a college professor, a doctor, or a U.S.
Senator. The American dream is available to all. There is hope for those
who accept the dream in the core of their being. It won’t be easy; but
by facing life with hope and hard work, success can be yours.
Most importantly, we have learned that to be
successful in life you must play the hand you are dealt. All Americans
are born politically equal, but mentally and physically different. The
requirement is to succeed in spite of the cards dealt you and the
limitations and obstacles you are born with or that are placed in your
way. We must understand the importance of family, friends, and
community to encourage and support us along the way. In addition
to our own hard work, let us recognize that ultimately each person’s
success is a result of a lot of help.
Charlene and I love the United States of
America and we believe in it and its goodness. For the most part our
lives have been spent in service to our country and to our fellow man.
Rightly or wrongly we believe that the principles upon which America was
founded are a shining example for all of mankind. And we firmly believe
that every American citizen should do all in their power to protect,
support and defend this great nation, its freedoms and its democratic