We should re­mem­ber shared pur­pose on Vet­er­ans Day

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY BRAN­DON HEFFINGER Bran­don Heffinger is a Marine Corps of­fi­cer, the di­rec­tor of the Wake For­est Vet­er­ans Le­gal Clinic, and an at­tor­ney in Raleigh.

Bel­leau Wood. Guadal­canal. Iwo Jima. Chosin Reser­voir. Hue City. Fal­lu­jah. Ra­madi. Mar­jah. San­gin. Each a place ce­mented into the revered lore of the Marine Corps; each a place where Marines fought, died, demon­strated Amer­i­can re­solve, and re­minded the na­tion to never for­get the sac­ri­fices made for so many by so very few. In one way or an­other, Marines pulled us to­gether then, and the Amer­i­can spirit found in the Marine Corps will do it again.

I served as a Marine Corps of­fi­cer and led pla­toons in Iraq and Afghanistan. I later com­manded an in­fantry com­pany in the re­serves and con­tinue to serve in the re­serves.

The men and women I led were from dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and had dif­fer­ent life ex­pe­ri­ences. Some were from wealthy fam­i­lies and some were from fam­i­lies liv­ing be­low the poverty line. They had dif­fer­ent lev­els of ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment. We all left be­hind fam­ily and friends to serve our coun­try.

Many Marines iden­ti­fied as Chris­tians, but there were also Jews and Mus­lims. Some were de­voutly re­li­gious, and some didn’t ad­here to any re­li­gion. There were black, white, and brown Marines, but in the Corps, we’re all green. And sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion just didn’t mat­ter.

Some were po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive, some were lib­eral, and like our broader so­ci­ety, many were some­where in the be­tween. Dur­ing down­time, I heard Marines de­bate ev­ery is­sue imag­in­able. I saw pas­sion, and some­times anger, on both sides of those de­bates. But when they put on their gear, loaded their weapons, and em­barked on a mis­sion, they were forged to­gether by a shared pur­pose. They loved their coun­try and were will­ing to fight for it. And if nec­es­sary, they were ready to die for each other. It was a bond that couldn’t be bro­ken.

Lead­ing Marines, I wit­nessed the spirit of Amer­ica, the best of what Amer­ica is, or at least, what it can be. Marines place the mis­sion and each other be­fore them­selves — an idea that seems en­tirely lost in our cur­rent pol­i­tics.

When I think about Marines, I feel a pro­found sense of hope that peo­ple can unite be­hind a shared pur­pose. By its very ex­is­tence, Amer­ica rep­re­sents the great­est hope for hu­man­ity. Yet, in this coun­try for which brave Marines are pre­pared to lay down their lives, Amer­i­cans are en­gaged in an ide­o­log­i­cal war with one an­other. We’ve built de­fenses and em­placed can­nons around our tribes, and many are also on the of­fen­sive.

We’ve just emerged from one of the most con­tentious mid-term elec­tion cy­cles in re­cent his­tory. Neg­a­tive ads and cut-throat pol­i­tics have ex­hausted many of us. Amer­i­cans haven’t been this po­lar­ized since the Civil War, and we’re all suf­fer­ing the con­se­quences.

We’re un­der­min­ing our strengths and alien­at­ing our al­lies while watch­ing China be­come more pow­er­ful and Rus­sia be­come bolder. We’re trad­ing our de­cency and hu­man­ity for votes. And we’re in­ten­tion­ally ig­nor­ing the im­mi­nent ex­is­ten­tial threat of cli­mate change.

In the Marine Corps, I’ve wit­nessed what we could have as a na­tion. The abil­ity to of­ten dis­agree as in­di­vid­u­als, but to unite be­hind what binds us to­gether, our pur­pose, our hope. If we can peer through the can­non smoke, I be­lieve Amer­i­cans can once again find that hope, and I be­lieve we must. Not just for the sake of ci­vil­ity—smil­ing at some­one while you pull the rug out from un­der them doesn’t make bet­ter pol­icy—but to pre­pare for the bat­tles ahead.

This Vet­er­ans Day, re­mem­ber the sac­ri­fices Amer­i­cans have made and con­tinue to make to main­tain free­dom, ward off evil, and pre­serve the hope that pro­pels us for­ward.

Re­mem­ber that we all share core Amer­i­can val­ues. Re­mem­ber that while we may have con­flict­ing views on many is­sues, we’re bound to­gether by the debt we owe to those who’ve fought and died to pre­serve our right to ex­press those views. Marines fight for each other be­cause when they go into bat­tle, some­times each other is all they’ve got. Amer­i­cans should fol­low their ex­am­ple.


Marines pin rank in­signia on a re­cently pro­moted com­rade in Afghanistan.

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