Hawkins: Some of nation’s best trained in military

Published 1:51 am Saturday, November 11, 2017

Community honors veterans

Those who have served in the military have learned applied the leadership lessons learned to many areas of life to make American a better country.

That’s the message Jack Hawkins, the Troy University Chancellor and a former U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant who saw combat action in Vietnam delivered to those gathered for a Veterans Day program Friday at the Covington County Veterans Memorial. The program followed the annual Veterans Day Parade.

“To the Marines present – Happy birthday!” he said. “Today marks 242 years of service. The Marine Corp was formed one year before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

“Isn’t this a great country? President Reagan said, ‘It is the greatest privilege on Earth to be born an American.’ And the greatness of America is reflected in those willing to defend her.

“Since 1776, 42 million Americans have served in the Armed Forces, and 1.1 million of them paid the highest price.

“It is an honor to wear the nation’s uniform,” he said. “All vets feel pride in their service. I will never forget the pride I felt when I earned the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

“I regret that fewer have the opportunity to serve,” he said. “According to figures from the Pentagon, 75 percent of today’s youth fail the standards for entrance into the military because of criminal records or being physically unfit. Of the remaining 25 percent, only 1 percent volunteers.

“This is disturbing,” he said. “Historically, the military has been a training round for the nation’s leaders, from city hall to the White House. This is a declining trend. Today, only 20 percent of Congress has served in the military, whereas in 1995, 75 percent of the U.S. Senate and 53 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives had served.

“We need strong leaders,” he said.

“During a commencement speech at Troy in 2000, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, who was later a U.S. Senator, captured the influence the Marine Corps had in his life when he said, ‘Everything I know about leadership, I learned in the Marine Corp.

“In his book, ‘Corps Values,’ he stressed the basic leadership principles he learned there. Lead from the front; inspect what you expect; take personal responsibility; give credit and take blame; show respect for others; dress up, not for the job that you have, but for the job you want to have. If you take care of the details, the big problems will take care of themselves. And, eat last.

“We’ve all known leaders who were shaped by the military,” he said. “Let me tell you about two young men who grew up together in my hometown of Mobile, and were called to service in World War II. They exemplify the best the military produced – Dr. Sid Phillips and Dr. Eugene Sledge.”

Both men wrote books about their experiences in the war, he said. Dr. Phillips’ book inspired Ken Burns’ documentary, “The War,” and, together with Dr. Sledge, they inspired the HBO series, “The Pacific.”

“Dr. Phillips described his experience at Guadalcanal,” he said. “He said his unit was taking fire from 14-inch guns on Japanese battleships that fired 1,100 rounds in 24 hours. He described that night on Guadalcanal as a night from hell.

“But what is most impressive aobut Sidney Phillips is that he came home from war with a conviction to save lives, not take them. He went to med school and built a life of service to others through his medical practice that did not end until his death.

“Dr. Philips influenced Eugene Sledge to join the Corps. When he returned from the Pacific, Dr. Sledge served as a teacher.

“I knew Dr. Sledge,” he said. “He taught science at what was then Alabama College. He was a mild-mannered man who talked more about amoeba and protozoa than war.

“He was encouraged to write his memoirs, and in 1981, published ‘With the Old Breed: At Peleiu and Okinawa,’ which is now considered the handbook for combat Marines of World War II.

“A passage from Dr. Sledge’s masterpiece sums up his combat experience: ‘I existed from moment to moment, sometimes thinking death would have been preferable to the horrors we faced.’

“They were members of the Greatest Generation. Dr. Sledge and Dr. Phillips saw war up-close and personal. They smelled it. They felt its pain. And they never forgot it.

“After the war, they both returned to Alabama to help build the greatest nation on Earth,” Hawkins said. “I am proud to call them my heroes.

“But Covington County has been blessed with silmilar heroes.

“The late Rodney J. Evens of Florala received the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in Vietnam in 1969. Forty-two million have served in the Armed forces, and only 3,500 have been recognized with this honor. Only 70 are alive today.

“Sgt. Evans absorbed the blow of an enemy land mine with the full impact of his body, costing him his life, but saving the lives of his comrades, and there is no doubt he knew he would die.

“I wanted to mention Mr. Eland Anthony Jr., a former Troy student and a member of the Greatest Generation, who earned the Silver Star in the European Theater in World War II. Second Lt. Anthony single-handedly took out a German machine gun emplacement that had his entire company pinned down.

“And last, but not least, 1st Lt. (ret.) John Givhan, who was a command pilot in five Army helos. There are no greater heroes than the pilots who went back into the fire to rescue our young men. He earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for combat in Vietnam from 1963-64.

“A common thread these great men hared is a devotion to servant leadership embodied in the Book of Mathew. ‘I came to serve, NOT to be served.’

“America is great. The Greatness of America is reflected in the hearts of patriots who have served our nation with honor and courage. May we never forget them,” he said.