Commentary

June 8, 2012

History in flesh better than reading about it

by Lt. Col. Dominic Clementz
56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron

Recently, I had the unprecedented opportunity to spend an evening socializing with veterans and family members whose life experiences spanned nine decades. The social brought together an Auschwitz and Holocaust survivor, a D-Day and concentration camp liberator, a Pearl Harbor survivor, a couple of Korean War veterans, and a few Vietnam veterans along with several active-duty Airmen and their families. The casual, yet, captivating discussions that evening proved richer than any history book. It reminded me of a phrase a former history professor was fond of sharing, “History may not repeat itself, but it surely rhymes.”

The point the professor was trying to impart is that we can learn much from our collective past as we work to shape a better future. This is a very pertinent lesson to all of us in the profession of arms who are entrusted with defending our Constitution against all enemies.

Every level of professional military education devotes considerable time and resources to teaching and reflecting on the leadership challenges of past generations within the context of service, and national and world history. Consequently, as PME graduates, we are also novice historians. Knowing our history is important because mistakes, as well as successes, are recognizable to some degree.

As amateur historians, most of us can relate to at least one instance where individuals or nations recognized or failed to recognize the social dynamics at work. Often when the social dynamics were recognized, overwhelming success followed. On the other hand, when the lessons of history were not learned, tragedy followed. Therefore, most readers recognize the intrinsic value of understanding our past so we can make better decisions for the future.

Whether you are a self-proclaimed history buff or a reluctant novice, I think you will find that learning about history is much more rewarding and relevant the closer you are to the source material. As military members, we have opportunities to travel the world and walk the battlefields of past conflicts as well as talk face-to-face (not to be confused with Facebook) with veterans who have, as the saying goes, “been there, done that and got the T-shirt.”

Another Memorial Day has come and gone, but I challenge each of you to seek out an opportunity to visit with a veteran and ask them to share their story and perhaps their memory of a fallen comrade. Luke Air Force Base has many such opportunities throughout the year, including heritage month celebrations, Holocaust Remembrance events, and prisoner of war panels. Additionally, we can seek face-to-face exchanges during VA hospital visits, in veterans organizations (VFW, American Legion and sergeants associations), or within our own family and community.

Also consider volunteering to capture this living history for future generations of Americans. In 2000, the Unites States Congress voted unanimously for legislation to create the Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress Veterans History Project provides a great avenue to honor the contributions of American war veterans and civilian workers who supported them by preserving stories of their service to our country. The Veterans History Project relies on volunteers throughout the nation to collect veterans’ stories via audio, video and written means on behalf of the Library of Congress. I have had the privilege to interview four World War II service members through the Veterans History Project. In the process, I learned an enormous amount about “The Greatest Generation,” our county and the world in which we live. The interviews were a tremendous personal experience that I will always treasure. I challenge you to seek a similar experience while honoring the proud legacy of our nation’s patriots.




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