Our heroes and leaders can come from all kinds of life circumstances. Memorial Day is specifically reserved for mourning those in the United States military who have died while serving us. I encourage each of us to pause for a moment to reflect upon someone who has made the ultimate sacrifice to protect democracy and our freedom.

My father was a United States Coast Guard officer for his adult career. My sister served the same in the Coast Guard Reserve. In my book, Mavericks & Merlins: Sailors And Renegades Leave Shore, What About You?, I talk about some of the leadership lessons my father provided to me:

I credit my dad for instilling in me a solid grasp of what’s needed to be an effective leader. We’d talk about what makes a good skipper, and sometimes he’d take me with him on a short cruise in the Gulf aboard a coast guard ship. I saw how the crew respected him, how he made sure to cultivate leaders in the various departments, and how he gave junior officers opportunities to learn new skills that would enable them to advance to positions of higher rank. He led by example, always calmly communicating what he wanted done without being a Captain Bligh.

Bill Merlin always talked about training people to do their job and then letting them do that job regardless of rank. When it comes to saving others, rank does not determine success. United States Coast Guardsmen reverently refer to Douglas Munro, who exemplified what they do.

An article, This World War II Hero Is the Only Coast Guard Member with a Medal of Honor, noted the heroic sacrifice Douglas Munro made for his brothers in combat:

Taking five of the small craft under his command, he mounted a rescue mission, all the while under continuous attack from the shore. As the boats were too small to transport all the Marines at once, Munro and his fellow Coast Guardsmen had to make several dangerous trips back and forth. At one point, a group of Marines came under particularly intense fire. In an effort to provide cover, Munro used his own boat as a shield between the beachhead and the other boats.

As the last group of Marines were being evacuated from the island, Munro was hit by a fatal burst of enemy fire. Focused on his mission to the end, his dying words to his friend Evans, who was with him on the scene, were: ‘Did they get off?’ His sacrifice had saved hundreds of Marines. In a letter to his bereaved parents, informing them of their loss, Munro’s Commanding Officer wrote that, without exception, those under his charge had praise for Munro. His Master Sergeant wrote that Douglas was ‘kind, courteous, thoughtful, and, above all, courageous,’ the ‘kind of American that made [that] war worth fighting.’

Let’s take a moment today to remember those that died in the service of our military and especially those who did it valiantly without great rank and just doing their job.

Thought For The Day

If you are able, save them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.
—Major Michael Davis O’Donnell