What is Courage?

As we watched the inspiring ceremony in Normandy yesterday commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-day, I was struck by something one of the surviving veterans said.

First–I hope you have your Millennial children and friends watch the whole ceremony.   Go to YouTube and watch ALL of President Trump’s speech.   This is not a political comment.  Rather, he tells the story of the monumental day from the United States’ perspective.  And watch Macron of France share the French perspective of that day.

This 75th anniversary is the most important one–in my opinion.  In 25 years we will acknowledge the 100th anniversary of a day that saved the world.   But, no one will be alive who landed on those beaches that day.   This was why yesterday–with 50 plus veterans of that fateful day in attendance–was so special.   It is our last time to see these men.   It is the last time to show our young the real living, breathing, heroes who made it possible for us to still be living free.

One of the “90-something” veterans was complimented by a journalist for being such a hero.  And the elderly man responded humbly, “I was not a hero.   These men–he pointed to the gravestones of those who fell that day–were heroes.   I was scared to death, afraid.  I was not the hero.”

To me, he was self-deprecating because he had been afraid.   I think any one of us would say, if you weren’t terrified that day as you landed, you didn’t know what was going on.

So, to that fine man, I would say this, “Why you are a hero is that you pressed on–despite the terror.  You made it to the beach, and off the beach, and on to victory in Europe.   Each one of you who made it to the beach gave hope to the next terrified American who was about to exit his boat, and wade into the deep water, under withering fire, and devastating death around him.  Fear and adrenalin and an innate sense of duty and purpose carried you off that beach and into history. No sir, you ARE a hero!”

That reminded me of something a colleague of mine discovered when his son was studying to be an Eagle Scout.

They were asked the definition of courage and bravery.   Father and son both responded:   having no fear.   And the Scoutmaster said, “No.   Courage is not the absence of fear.  It is the willingness to press on–despite the fear.”

Fear is a human emotion.  But when one acts–in the face of fear–to save a fellow countryman, to do what’s right, to face failure, to learn from it and get back up–that is courage.

All of those 150,000 men were brave and what they did, while terrified, made them heroes forever.

The same is true for you.   Fear is but an emotion.  Moving forward anyway, in order to do what is right, that is courage.

Do not expect victory without fear.  Do not expect growth without anxiety.   Even if the worst is facing you, do what is right for the greatest number, and if you must harm, do the least harm possible for the least number.  That is courage.   And that is also peace of mind!


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