Dear Dad, Chief Petty Officer, US Navy, retired

November 11, 2009 at 11:30 am 1 comment

I found a photo in a box, tucked away with a hundred other photos of family and old friends, places I’ve gone to which I may never return, things that must have seemed important at the time but now have lost all meaning. But this one,


it tugged at my heart. Not because I remember this moment at all; I don’t know how old I was, exactly, but clearly I was more interested in the action going on around me on that rainy day, than in that first long embrace from a sailor returning home to his young family after months — his daughter’s lifetime — at sea. Did I know who you were?

My dad is a retired United States Navy Chief Petty Officer.

I say that out loud and I feel my heart glow with a warm, golden light; it feels like a badge of honor on my soul. I’m so proud.

I’ve listened to your stories with awe and delight, and in doing so I’ve realized that it’s an incredibly brave act to enlist in the military: to voluntarily put aside the life you’ve always known, to leave your parents, to arrive by train in Great Lakes late at night with shipmates you barely know, not knowing where to go or what to do, to try to function on too little sleep, too little time to eat, too little time to think, just trying to make it through, trying to do the right thing. Trying to do the right thing.

Does that make it any easier — the discipline they teach you? Focus. Fortitude. Fraternity. Is that what makes it possible to stand courageously at the ship’s rails, watching your family and your homeland fade into the horizon? Is it the salty wind on your face, the uniform of your country on your back, the colors flying proudly above your head — are these the things that give you faith that the world will be better for your sacrifice? Non sibi sed patriae.

You’ve instilled those core Navy values in me, whether you know it or not. But never through words. Your life has taught me — shown me — no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office and whatever battles we are waging at home and abroad, that patriotism — the unconditional love of country — manifests in the selfless commitment to actively making this world an easier place to live: trying to do the right thing. And to do it requires honor to recognize what needs to be done, the courage to do it, and the commitment to see it through. Though the world is thick with storm, you keep your eyes to the sun. And that is the standard by which I try to live.


But what is the right thing to do? What’s the difference between trying to make the world better as we, individually, believe it should be, and making the world better as it, at the moment, needs to be? Your career of selfless service to others has offered me that lesson, too: Doing the right thing has little to do with what I think is right. It is, rather, what’s right for those who need my help. Not for self, but for country. Not for myself, but for those who need me.

The reach of your commitment, your service, and your patriotism extends much, much farther than you know.

So I’ll let another shopper with fewer items (or more kids to corral) get in front of me in the checkout line; I’ll be friendly with an exhausted and grumpy cashier; I’ll keep trying to be patient and understanding, trusting and kind. Though it will never live up to the service you’ve given to your community — your country — I know, deep down, that it stems from the same place. I know because it was you who planted it there. And though my acts may be infinitesimal, you should know that when I do them, I do them in honor of you.

“I hope my achievements in life are these: That I will have fought for what was right and fair, that I will have risked for that which mattered, that I will have given help to those who were in need… that I will have left the Earth a better place for what I’ve done and who I’ve been.” – C. Hoppe


With love,
The proud daughter of a retired United States Navy Chief Petty Officer


Entry filed under: Characters, Head & Heart. Tags: , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Bob  |  November 12, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you, Sarah.


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