Why is it that we have to lose something in order to learn just how much
we really appreciate it? That was the case for me in Vietnam. Vietnam taught
me two very valuable lessons - ones I shall never forget.
First, I learned that life is a fragile thing. It is a gift which all too many of
us take for granted as we go along day by day, wasting so many of the precious hours we
are allotted. Life can be taken from us at any moment. Of course, this was
even more true in a war zone, where our lives were forfeit from the moment we stepped
ashore. But even in the safety of America there is the ever-present risk of auto
accident, sudden or serious illness, or death by crime. We do not ever know what
time we have, or when the messenger of death may call to strike our names from the rolls
of the living. Life should be savored, and lived. Friends should be enjoyed
and cultivated. Our lives should be dedicated to creating and building so that,
however short they may be, we can make a contribution that will benefit future
generations, just as our lives have been enriched by the labors of so many before us.
Second, I learned that I, and perhaps many of us, take America for granted. Never
having experienced other cultures, perhaps we assume their lives are as rich as ours.
The rural villagers we so often met had almost no material possessions. Dirt
houses, dirt floors, a handful of threadbare clothes, a life of sunup to sundown, seven
days a week toil. The everyday things we take for granted are only for the
privileged elsewhere. Things like hot and cold running water, toilets, closets full
of clothes, automobiles, forty hour work weeks (leaving two whole days of leisure each
week), electricity, schools - the list is endless! In our country we can make the
laws, we can choose what we work at, and we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. And
most of all we take for granted the system of laws and personal freedom which makes all of
Yes, I learned to be proud of what our country has achieved, and to be grateful for the
endless bounty most of us enjoy. America is a wonderful place. Our nation
embodies an ideal, one that many other peoples would gladly risk their lives to attain.
We should always strive to be worthy of it. Regardless of whether Vietnam was
right or wrong, in the mud and the rain and the dirt of Vietnam I found that there are
certain things worth dying for. Keeping the dream and the reality of a freedom like
ours alive is one of those things.
America's liberty and wealth spring from the labors of millions who have gone before
us. People have come from around the world to help share in its creation. We
have all profited from the knowledge and wisdom of many great civilizations. It is
our duty and obligation to not only pass them on, but to nurture and spread them, so they
may take root and flower in other lands as well. We, the American people, by fate or
destiny, have been handed a torch. It must be passed on, hand to hand, until its
flame brightens even the farthest shore, bringing enlightenment and hope and prosperity to
all peoples. In just two centuries America has leaped far beyond the achievements of
most of the worlds billions. It is our obligation to see that they too share what we
have so graciously been given.