Discover more from Holly’s Substack
The Final Call of Duty
a Veteran's Day guest post
In honor of Veterans Day, I bring you something different. I’ve enjoyed Dan’s Substack and invited him to write a guest post on a topic of his choosing. This submission was both interesting and educational.
To all who served — Happy Veterans Day and thank you for your service!
This guest post is by Dan W. Gann, who writes on Substack here. Dan is a retired Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Registered Nurse, and lifetime student of philosophy. He writes commentary on divisive ideologies, political deception, cultural and educational indoctrination, and other things that are presently proving dangerously successful in dismantling the traditional structure of America. Like C.S. Lewis, he holds to “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of thing we are.”
“Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” Tennyson
About 2,000 years ago, an unassuming Ancient Carpenter went on record speaking a marvelous creed: “Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends.” In modern society, the great irony behind this admirable sacrifice is one aimed less at friends and almost exclusively to strangers. I know of two professions which demonstrate this form of love exceedingly more so than others: members of the Armed Forces and law enforcement officers.
Both fight to protect us, though their “battle ground” differs. Both have disparate enemies, so their ultimate cause is wholly different. Both factions rightly merit recognized honors. And though both die for diverse reasons, the honors bestowed upon them at death are essentially identical. But I cannot find within me the fortitude to agree that funeral honors for fallen law enforcement officers, in contrast to fallen members of the United States Military and its veterans, ought to be so similar as to be virtually indistinguishable. And, yet, for a pedantic Vietnam era veteran like me, quite oddly in other ways, they are not nearly identical enough.
It is almost Veterans Day and I clicked on a link to refresh my memory of the perfection of a Military Honor Guard. The first video I landed on was a segment of the military honor (or as I first thought) called the three-volley rifle salute: seven riflemen of the Honor Guard fire three shots each. I had expected to see the impeccable perfection achievable only by a disciplined military: a consummate choreograph of cocking and shouldering the rifle by seven persons as if one; and the thorough, synchronous discharge from seven rifles so perfectly timed as to be indistinguishable from the sound of a single discharge. But to my dismay I was watching something unforgivingly sloppy: an asynchronous cocking of rifles, aimless shouldering of the firearms, and uncoordinated discharging of the next round. The image you must try to create is that of an undisciplined high school freshman marching band, where every member truly does march to the sound of their own drum.
Other things in the video were utterly foreign to me. The uniforms of the Color Guard and the Honor Guard, though similar, where not truly representative of uniforms dedicated to the Army, Navy, Marines, or the Air force. I soon realized I was watching a video of a funeral for a fallen law enforcement officer and not a fallen “solider” or veteran. A sudden sensation of awe come over me. Followed by disbelief and then more than a tinge of anger. As a veteran I asked myself, “how long has this been going on?” What troubled me was the disproportionate similarity of the law enforcement funeral honors with the traditional military funeral. The former is to recognize the service of civilian, law enforcement officers. The latter, to honor the service of veterans, and those in the armed services who actively sacrificed their life in battle. It seems to me altogether logical to question why, then, the two are treated essentially identical. More importantly, I can make the case that law enforcement has simply appropriated a very historical and constant tradition of the armed forces.
From the outset I feel it imperative to clarify the very “woke” irrational doctrine of appropriation. The woke crowd clamors for the need to adopt diversity and inclusion of culture, and then decry oppression when that diversity and inclusion is adopted by a different culture. And so, I am as anti-woke as a person can be. But there is a commonsense view of appropriation and an insane view of it. The insane view is a black female with a cornrow hair style, who claims oppression by her white female neighbor who wrongly “borrowed” a cornrow hairstyle; thereby exploiting a less privileged minority group. The commonsense view accounts for whether this “borrowing” is intended as a homage or insult. One group taking the liberty to borrow beliefs and traditions from another group without comprehending the experiences and traditions of that group is typically viewed as an insult. Oppression is not in question here. Law enforcement is simply taking a tradition that doesn’t belong to them. Their purpose is to protect civilians from civilians; the military to protect the United States of America and her allies from foreign and domestic enemies, in time of war and in time of peace.
I hope not to be misunderstood. I am not anti-police; neither do I wish to demean their invaluable service and sacrifice. Law enforcement officers pledge to serve the public good and though not habitual, it goes without saying they must frequently put their lives on the line. Without law enforcement, given the present unrest unfolded by modern worldviews, with the propensity to favor a Marxist and Socialist paradigm for society, the local and state conditions would quickly deteriorate into chaos. In cities where police have been constrained in their methods for fighting crime, this is clearly evident. Anyone who honestly believes that for every Police officer in Chicago or Newark replaced by a social worker is an advancement toward safety, must have a secret death wish.
It is unfortunate that unsavory behavior by some officers– even murder of unarmed civilians - have placed them at odds even with the very people who need them most. I will readily admit that the safety of both police officers and citizens would be dramatically enhanced by the addition of military-style clothing and weapons. If military clothing provides a tactical advantage over criminals, then that is what they ought to be issued. And it is near the level of absurdity to permit law enforcement to ever be “out gunned” by withholding technically advanced military style weapons, while the “bad guy” is armed with them to the hilt.
When officers sacrifice their lives whether in the line of duty or otherwise, they merit funerals which piously reflect the respect, honor, and dedication of their special services. But they are not so special as to freely appropriate the honor and traditions of others. From the insignia on their uniforms to funerals of honor, they have without permission barrowed the traditions of the United States of America Armed Forces, the members of those forces, and the exclusive honor their service merits which is inevitably unique. My concern is not the open recognition of honor due law enforcement officers when fulfilling their duty. It is not even the merited honor bestowed upon fellow officers at death. What is troubling is the overt sentiments of some writers who, without the slightest hint of shame, implore that full military-style funeral honors should be available to law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty. My concern, then, is that these funeral enactments, as a tradition of honor, are something to which they can only pretend to be a tradition. I will now offer evidence why this is true.
Draping the Casket with The U.S. Flag
Sometime during the warring genius of Napoléon Bonaparte (1796-1815) it was found advantageous to cover the transports carrying the dead from the battlefield with the country’s corresponding flag. This insured identifying the allegiance of the dead warrior. In time, this became a military tradition for honoring the dead. The American flag signifies a veteran’s dedicated service and perhaps more significant the sacrifice made by an active duty personal during war time. There is no comparable law enforcement tradition. Nevertheless, every law enforcement funeral will honor the officer by draping the American flag over the casket.
The 21-Gun Salute
“Today the U.S. military fires a 21-gun salute in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the president, ex-presidents and president-elect of the United States. The 21-gun salute is also fired at noon on George Washington's birthday, President's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and the day of the funeral of a president, ex-president, or president-elect. A 21-gun salute was the highest national honor.” The 21-gun salute was altered slightly and become the traditional three-volley salute (7 rifles firing 3 shots) during military funerals honoring the service of active-duty personal, veterans and fallen members. Again, there is no historical, customary, law enforcement tradition comparable to this honor. Nevertheless, you can expect this military tradition to be enacted for every fallen law enforcement officer.
A Short History of Taps
During the Civil War, it became a Union tradition to play the bugle call named “taps.” This heart-moving, attractively melancholy 24-note bugle call was adopted as the final call to end the day. Fires and lights were extinguished. The first military funeral playing of taps was ordered by Union Captain John Tidball during the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. It is now customary that taps should be “played by the military at burial and memorial services, to symbolize the end of the deceased veteran’s service to the nation.” There is no historical substantiation, nor hint, for law enforcement as the originator of this tradition.
The Flag Folding Ceremony
The American flag is removed from the casket, folded, and presented to the veteran’s designated next of kin. There is a no more solemn ritual of honor due one who has served our country than folding of the flag. By this tradition it is all the more conceivable as a co-honor due the United States of America, by virtue of military service and from which that action alone justifies in her all that is honorable. But the United States of America is only as honorable as the people that represent her. The flag of this country is an emblem intending absolute truth that finds expression best through its symbolism, metaphor, and allegory. The folding of the flag may represent for civilians all the comforts they may pleasantly live for. To the veteran, the flag represents such greatness, honor, and justice we should always be willing to die for.
The military, honoring tradition is to fold the flag with 13 folds with the expertise and precision of a heart surgeon. These 13 individual folds creates a blue field and white star triangle fully shrouding the American flag. These folds epitomize an interpretive tradition: “The portion of the flag denoting honor is the canton of blue containing the stars representing states our veterans served in uniform. The field of blue dresses from left to right and is inverted only when draped as a funeral cloth over the casket of a veteran who has served our country honorably in uniform.” Just as meaningful, each fold takes on a scripted meaning which may be selected by the next of kin or they may simply choose an unscripted ceremonial folding.
There is some question as to the origin of this tradition apart from the assurance of its military induction. Nevertheless, the majority of scholars assert that the 13 folds are symbolic of the original 13 colonies of America. The flag, once completely folded and tucked, has the historical appearance of the 3-point, cocked hat worn by soldiers fighting under George Washinton and the marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones. Again, there is no law enforcement custom comparable to this military tradition, which exist at all only by means of appropriation.
Tradition of the Riderless Horse
This military tradition is said to have origins in the Middle Ages. A riderless horse
is led through the funeral procession with the deceased boots reversed in the stirrups. The symbolism employed is that of a fallen leader looking backward upon his troops as his soul fades into eternity. The horse is often referred to as a caparisoned; meaning the animal is elaborately decorated with symbolic and ornamental trimmings. A more perfect and noble steed can rarely be found, to the exclusion of the elusive, mythical unicorn itself. The pure equestrian beauty invokes an exceedingly noble, if not supernatural, tribute to the fallen warrior. To say the riderless horse is not a tribute afforded all personnel who will never ride it is rather paradoxical. But the tradition of this military honor is exceedingly selective of persons to whom it is bestowed. Historically, Army and Marine Corp officers who have earned the rank of colonel or above are candidates. Beginning with President George Washington, the riderless horse has been part of the funeral presession for every President of the United States, in light of the fact that they serve as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. With this, it goes without argument, that the law enforcement “tradition” of the riderless horse is an unadulterated appropriation of a military custom.
A Call of Duty
The traditions recognizing a fallen military member is a direct outcome of a soldiers call of duty. And that call is dramatically different from law enforcement. The duty of a police officer is to protect civilians from civilians; the duty of the military is to protect the United States of America and her allies from foreign and domestic enemies, in time of war and in time of peace.
Consolidating the two creates rampant myths through the modern coronation of common, everyday heroes. One writer expresses the title as conferred upon police officers: “Full military-style honors should be available to those heroes who die in the line of duty.” American civilians often refer to active-duty military personnel and historic figures as heroes, and if accompanied with death, “fallen heroes.” During the COVID-19 pandemic nurses and doctors were also showered with accolades of heroism.
This begs a reasonable analysis of what is expected of a person, as compared to what is truly “above and beyond the call of duty.” Nurses and doctors are, by the nature of their art, expected to neglect their own welfare to assist and even save the lives of others. To what extent ought they be called heroes, since what we expect of them is not properly considered going “beyond the call of duty? To a lesser extent, the same question can be posed to law enforcement officers and military personnel. A law enforcement officer who cowered outside a school building echoing with the sound of gunfire lost his job. He lost the job not because he failed to go “above and beyond” the call of duty, but because he failed to answer the expected call of duty. This is a glaring example of the visible folly of defining heroes more by occupational hubris rather than by altruistic behavior.
I am not saying there are no true and noble heroes. I am saying that the common habit of ascribing to selected individuals the title of “everyday heroes” is a fruitless oxymoron. It is a bit like a “law abiding” criminal – they don’t exist. If everyone is a hero, no one is a hero. Thus, we diminish merited honor and noble recognition for true heroes when they rise up by call of duty. There are two types of people immune from the effects of an everyday hero fabrication: The first, a person who has endured the fear that comes with battle and the familiar smell of blood, who without thinking, fought above and beyond the call of duty, and has a Medal of Honor to confirm it; and the second, a narcissistic person who can only think of a hero as nothing more than the main character of a comic book.
There are no better words to vividly describe a soldier’s call of duty than those of Lewis: “All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love. Like the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil – every evil except dishonor and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it.”
One of the most horrific epic battles waged by military members responding to the call of duty and sacrifice, was the Allies’ amphibius invasion of Normandy during WWII, on a particular beach code named “Omaha.” The beach was the target of an assault by the Army 29th Infantry Division and the Army 1st Infantry Division simply known as D-Day. The men were brought to the beach by Higgins boats, pounded with the “ping,” “ping” of German gunfire as they approached. When the front door was lowered, the infantry men where methodical shot dead in mass from the fierce, German MG42 machine gun; much like the carnival game of shooting ducks swimming single-file. Men who had just enlisted and invested 3-6 months of “bootcamp” training, lost their lives without ever firing a single bullet and without ever placing one foot on the battle ground. That day on Omaha Beach, it is estimated some 2,400 soldiers were sacrificed to the ages. The carnage will forever remain in the memory of the men who survived it. During 2018-2020, I was blessed with the honor of weekly speaking to an Army veteran, the late Dr. Tommy Thomas Macdonnell who passed at the age of 99 years. He was one of a dozen veterans or so, still living since WWII. Amazingly, not only did he survive Omaha Beach, but also the Battle of the Bulge. He fought for our country and was prepared to die for it. I asked him what was the key in surviving the Beach? He replied, “Luck: you took cover behind a dead body and during a lull of machine gun fire you advanced to the next dead body. If you avoided a mine, this was repeated until you reached the beach head.” I cannot question the strategy. Despite the tragic loss of lives, the men bravely captured the beach head later that day.
If I may, I should like to gently remind law enforcement officers that you are not fighting a World War. You are fighting for your precinct, your city, or county; and when killing becomes necessary you are killing local civilians and even American citizens who have, for whatever reason, chosen a life of crime. This does not lessen your call of duty; it brings in focus the incumbent duty expected from you. You have one great physical and psychological advantage over your military counterparts. If and when the desire pushes you to resign, you may freely do so at any time. This voluntary act will not encourage punishment sure to befall a military member: a court- martial and imprisonment is certain to follow a soldier’s act of going absent without leave (AWOL). Deserters, those who leave one’s post and duty with the intention of never returning, are dealt with swiftly and harshly. In earlier days, a deserter would expect to face death by firing squad. A police officer may simply resign and go home. There is perhaps no clearer distinction than this that can be made. And no stronger distinction between the call of duty for the one as opposed to the other.
The timeless refection of obligation to bravery with an ardent sense of duty has been engrained into the heart of the Armed Forces. The poet Lord Alfred Tennyson composed a poem in 1854 praising the will of the British Light Cavalry Brigade. The Brigade, numbering around 670 men, charged into 25,000 Russian troops without hesitation by way of an extraneous order which led to a disastrous outcome. The task of Tennyson was to induce the vision of soldiers who would never waver to carry out a military order; even if it is certain to lead them to their deaths. As the order certainly did. Only about 70 men returned. To Tennyson, there was no debate and no question that military members will carry out their call of duty. This is expressed in the second stanza of the Light Brigade:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
These lines induce an eerie, rare unspoken exemplar of courage, as the reward and honor of fear itself, that only floods the spirits of men who have endured battle as a military duty from which they will not shrink. Remove the couplets and the dactylic meter, is to damage the poetic beauty. But this non-poetic rendition speaks plainly: A soldier’s duty is not to question nor understand why; a soldier’s duty is to do and die.
To every law enforcement officer, I offer the following admonishment. There is no officer on earth so virtuous that they ought to feel demeaned or insulted by honestly admitting that what local government asks of you differs dramatically from what The United State of America asks of a military member – particularly during war time. No law enforcement officer should feel insulted by the notion that the battlefield of, say, New York City, is to be preferred, for whatever weary comfort it may afford, as opposed to only misery offered Marines at the hell of Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima, and the Army troops at Omaha beach during D-Day of World War Two. I can only think it better to let their honor be theirs and your honor, as you deem rightly deserved, be yours. But they ought not be the same. Please treasure your honors and be proud, but do not take the honors of others who are not proud but only grateful.
It is perhaps arguable why a large police department like New York City, must, as a matter of course, function in a paramilitary environment. After the Civil War, the department adopted military-style uniforms and insignia, and military customs of draping caskets and folding the flag presented to the next of kin. Had it ended there, much of the conflicting and vacillating nature of a civilian force honoring the dead as a tradition, adopted from a military culture, could have been dodged.
It is a delicate subject: members of each profession as well as family members wish to grieve for their fallen, and the cause for which the fallen has come to symbolize. One great truth must rest forever in the forefront of the minds of police officers: you doubtlessly know you are not fighting for your country; and if you are not fighting for her, you cannot die for her. Please treasure your honors and be proud, but do not appropriate the honors of veterans, who are not proud but have given the last measure of allegiance to their final call of duty.