It’s one of the most iconic moments in American sports.
Saturday evening on the field at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the players and cheerleaders participating in the annual Army-Navy football game will walk to the side of the losing team and together sing that academy’s alma mater. Next, they will trudge across the field to the victor’s side to do the same thing.
Then, and only then, will one side celebrate and the other go off to seek solace in their defeat.
The moment, repeated year after year, says so much in such a short amount of time. It speaks to honor, tradition, compassion, civility, and unity – values that bind together those who play and those who support them.
It also represents an ideal that we once recognized was essential to our American experience --the rough and tumble reality of a democracy in action -- tackling, fighting and scoring points against the opposition, but ultimately being united in our shared vision of what really matters.
The moment is even more poignant, of course, because these young men and women will soon be commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Some will perform great acts of heroism. Some may make the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. All will serve.
In performing their duty, they will be supported by the values that were sharpened – just as steel sharpens steel -- in the halls, classrooms, parade grounds and playing fields of West Point and Annapolis.
But what about the rest of us who don’t wear the uniform but seek to be good citizens in a turbulent world. Are values such as courage, integrity, commitment, sacrifice, citizenship, and patriotism relevant to the rest of us?
At times it feels as if these traditional civic values have been replaced by one long argument that shows no sign of ending. It’s as if we’ve lost the ability to converse and engage each other in a respectful and civil manner.
Thankfully, many Americans seem to recognize that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Earlier this year, a survey conducted by Ipsos for the Medal of Honor Foundation found that 71% of respondents believe society is not emphasizing values enough. Similarly, 79% believe strong values and character are important to all Americans and a whopping 87% agreed society would be a better place if we possessed stronger values.
The survey was released around the time that we were reminded of a real-life example of what happens when these values are put into action. Paris Davis was an Army Captain and Green Beret near Bong Son, Republic of Vietnam on June 17-18, 1965, when his unit was ambushed. He was severely wounded but time and time again, he returned to the battlefield to evacuate other wounded men under direct artillery fire and push back the enemy.
Davis was nominated twice for the Medal of Honor, and twice the paperwork went missing – “lost” his supporters were told. But they refused to give up until the President pinned the Medal of Honor around his neck in March. His bravery in 1965 and his subsequent civility reminded us that America can and must remember its heroes.
Most of people will never be faced with life-and-death moments like Paris Davis. But every day we each deal with situations when we have choices to make; choices big and small that define who we are.
By teaching the importance and meaning of these core values and providing real life examples of how they can be lived, we can make a positive difference in the lives of our families, our communities and our nation. Values can be taught. This takes commitment and a sense of boldness – the same qualities that those young men from the service academies will show on Saturday and beyond.
The stakes are high – nothing less than the future of the country – and the timing could not be more critical. Let’s get to work.
Britt Slabinski received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and is the president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which operates a Character Development Program. Thomas Mundell is the president and chief executive officer of The National Medal of Honor Leadership and Education Center, which offers leadership training centered on the values of the Medal of Honor.