On a recent visit to Denver, my cousin Linda brought with her a very interesting document. It was included in her father's (my Uncle Charlie's) discharge papers from his service as an officer in the Army during WWII. The author is an unknown commanding officer, who clearly had a sense of the gravity of the moment and the responsibility that beckoned for all of the young guys returning from the war.
It really struck me. I think it is a powerful piece of writing that could only have come from that time and place. It is the ultimate call for leadership and is quite interesting to reflect on in the context of the world we live in today. I will let the words speak for themselves.
Message From The Commanding Officer – Separation Center - U.S. Army
(Likely Date of Message – August 1945)
You are being discharged from the Army today—from your Army. It is your Army because your skill and your patriotism, your labor and courage and devotion have been some of the factors which make it great. You have been a member of the finest military team in history. You have accomplished miracles in battle and supply. Your country is proud of you and you have every right to be proud of yourselves.
You have seen, in the lands where you worked and fought, and where many of your comrades died, what happens when the people of a nation lose interest in their government. You have seen what happens when they follow false leaders. You have seen what happens when a nation accepts hate and intolerance.
We all are determined that what happened in Europe and Asia must not happen again to our country. Back in civilian life, you will find that your generation will be called upon to guide our country’s destiny. Opportunity for leadership is yours. The responsibility is yours. The nation which depended on your courage and stamina to protect it from enemies now expects you as individuals to claim your right of leadership, a right which you earned honorably and which is well deserved.
Start being a leader as soon as you put on your civilian clothes. If you see intolerance and hate, speak out against them. Make your individual voices heard, not for selfish things, but for honor and decency among men, for the rights of all people.
Remember, too, the no American can afford to be disinterested in any part of his government, whether it is county, city, state or nation.
Choose your leaders wisely—that is the way to keep ours the country for which you fought. Make sure those leaders are determined to maintain peace throughout the world. You know what war is. You know that we must not have another. As individuals you can prevent it if you give to the task which lies ahead the same spirit which you displayed in uniform.
Accept that trust and the challenge which it carries. I know that the people of America are counting on you. I know that you will not let them down.
Goodbye to each and every one of you and to each and every one of you good luck!