Those who served, and those who continue to serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard took an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and we can never forget the importance of their commitment to our Nation.
Although the sun was out, the sky deep blue, there was a cool breeze blowing over the water. My daughter Katy, her husband Steve, their almost three-year-old son Graham and I enjoyed a day of touristing Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Katy and I were only hours removed from the all-night drive leaving their former home outside Detroit for their new one in suburban Laurel. Though groggy, the sights and sounds of their new home town washed over me.
Baltimore has a breathtaking history. It was created in 1706 as a port, incorporated as a town twenty-three years later. The Second Continental Congress met there in 1776, making Baltimore temporarily the Nation's capital. Historic Fort McHenry guards the entry to the port. Francis Scott Key, aboard the British warship HMS Tonnant negotiating the release of American prisoners, witnessed the barrage in 1814 that inspired his poem to become The Star Spangled Banner. It is home to Edgar Allen Poe, The Baltimore Orioles and Charm City Cakes of Ace of Cakes fame.
The harbor, once an eyesore, has been revitalized. Upscale dining, the National Aquarium and a Barnes and Noble housed in an old power plant - what's not to love? Among the attractions are historic ships, moored and available to be boarded. One of them is the Coast Guard ship USCGC Taney, a large cutter that was present in Hawaii during the Pearl Harbor attack.
As we walked up to her a man climbed the brow, the gangplank leading to the ship. He was tall and stocky, wearing a black wool cap and windbreaker against the fall harbor chill. He smiled at someone on deck, turned toward the stern and placed his hand briefly over his heart. Then, he went aboard.
How many times had he done that before? Had he served? Members of the Navy and Coast Guard in uniform salute the colors first (normally flying at the stern of the ship), the enlisted member guarding the quarterdeck passage onto the ship second. It is a tradition, second nature after a while. Even at the shore installation where I drilled as a US Navy reservist we followed it. Twice a month for nearly four years I announced my "return aboard" with the twin salutes.
I saw the man again on the foredeck, his thousand mile look peering deep into his mind's eye. What adventures was he revisiting, or friends with whom he served thousands of miles from home was he remembering? How many times is this scene repeated each day - men and women respecting the colors, and our country, and recalling the days when the burden of guarding our freedom fell to them - and they were worthy.
Thank you, whoever you are, for everything that modest gesture represented.