On this anniversary of 9/11, I am drawn to a passage the great American writer Herman Wouk wrote in his classic War and Remembrance. Recounting the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf, Wouk writes of the extraordinary heroism displayed by three small U.S. Navy destroyers. Outnumbered and outgunned, these ships confronted a large formation of Japanese warships bearing down on vulnerable U.S. troop transports. The U.S. destroyers were part of a thin protective screen and were never intended for a major engagement. Their crews, comprised mainly of former civilian draftees, nonetheless found themselves to be all that stood between the Japanese navy and an American catastrophe. And so they charged. Against all odds and hopes of survival. The three ships were subsequently destroyed, but the gallantry they and similar American ships displayed that day compelled the Japanese commander to withdraw from the scene.
American police, firefighters, and first-responders did not have superiority on 9/11. Their training and equipment did not contemplate the hijacking of civilian airliners and their employment as guided missiles. And yet they charged. They charged into structurally compromised skyscrapers ablaze with exploded jet fuel. Likewise, the passengers of American Airlines 93 did not have superiority the same morning. And yet they charged the cockpit of their hijacked aircraft and died fighting to regain its control over Pennsylvania.
My admiration for the civilian Heroes of 9/11 notwithstanding, I would submit that if anyone cares to witness the “Fight” inherent in American DNA, they can do so in their Wounded Warriors. In Adaptive Sports activities, played on what was once deemed “the fields of friendly strife” by General Douglas MacArthur, veterans display the same courage, tenacity, and drive exhibited in their military service. Although many may not have their former physical superiority, they are still charged with “fight” to demonstrate what they can do, instead of what they can’t.
In summarizing the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Wouk wrote that the vision of the three destroyers “can endure as a picture of the way Americans fight when they don’t have superiority. Our schoolchildren should know about that incident, and our enemies should ponder it.”
Amen. Let’s Roll.