At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. Acts 10:1-3 NIV
Many years ago I was invited to a ceremony that was at once both poignant and majestic. My friend, mentor and “chief” Bob Bennett, under whom I worked as a fleet maintenance technician and, later, fleet manager, was retiring after thirty years in the U.S. Navy Reserves. He loved the Navy and hated to go. But he knew it was time.
Bob was one of the first male role models God put in my life after my father’s death. He was also the best. He summed up what it meant to me to be a man: God-fearing and friendly, no-nonsense, hard-working and hard-nosed yet also one of the funniest and most encouraging men I’d ever been around. Bob’s skills as a technician and as a team builder are unmatched in my experience. He remains one of the best problem solvers with machines and best leaders of men I have ever had the privilege to know.
The ceremony, which took place in one of the Navy hangars at NAS Marietta where Bob drilled, still sticks in my memory. Bob, in his dress whites, stood at attention with a tear just brimming in one eye as his commanding officer said, “Master Chief Robert G. Bennett I have reviewed your service record and I am privileged to say, what you have done, you have done flawlessly.”
It is a beautiful, no more than that, it is a majestic thing to see a man take up a commission, a role, a service, to become an agent of a higher, nobler purpose than self and persevere in that mission to the absolute end of endurance or even life itself, for the sake of others. That’s what men like Bob Bennett and countless thousands of other men and women have done for us as they serve in our nation’s military.
Nothing else inspires such reverence among us because we are so very conscious of our own selfishness. We are conscious of the weakness in our character. And we doubt that we could do to the uttermost that which duty demands without wavering.
That is why this weekend we honor the men and women of our country who have served in our armed forces. Not because they were perfect people. But because they gave themselves as agents of a higher purpose, servants of a higher cause.
So to my friend Bob, and to all of our veterans: hats off and thank you for who you are and what you have done. We owe you an incalculable debt.