St. Sebastian's held its Veterans Day Assembly on Thursday, November 9, continuing an annual tradition of inviting a veteran to address the school community in observance of the holiday. Retired Vice Adm. Wally Massenburg P'24,'26, former commander of Naval Air Systems Command, gave insight into the many reasons our veterans have joined the Armed Forces and what makes service special. He shared his own experiences, as well as those of his family members who have served. We are grateful to Mr. Massenburg for joining us to honor our veterans and appreciate and admire all that he has accomplished in his generous service to our nation. His speech from the Veterans Day Assembly is below.
Mr. Ferguson, I forgot to stop by this week to go over my chapel speech with you. Sorry, I hope this works.
Ronan, thank you for the introduction.
Mr. Nerbonne, thank you for reaching out and asking me to speak.
Father Arens, thank you for providing spiritual and moral direction to the St. Sebastian's student body.
Mr. Burke, thank you for the privilege of speaking with the students and faculty here at St. Sebastian's and in this, your last year at St. Seb's, to recognize all Service members who have served our country.
Today, we honor those who have chosen to serve our country in uniform - our veterans. Originally designated as Armed Services Day, the commemoration marks the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in the year 1918, when all fighting ceased in the "Great War", the "War to End all Wars". Here we are 105 years later, and we are still confronting the challenges of a world not at peace.
I am a veteran.
There are many reasons why men and women join the Armed Forces. Some cite their sense of patriotism when the country had been attacked, like Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Pat Tillman's story, in the book, "Where Men Win Glory" is a good example of his "Why?" For him it was more important to serve his country than play professional football. He gave the ultimate measure of devotion. A reason for joining could be a person's family that has a history of service to country. John McCain is an excellent example of his initial reluctance to "follow in the footsteps" of his father and grandfather as described in his book "Faith of Our Fathers" but found his faith and sense of patriotism in a POW camp as a prisoner in Vietnam for six years. Others may have joined as an alternative to being drafted, where others were drafted. There are many examples of these in the Vietnam era. I count myself among this group as I wanted to choose how I would serve. I chose Naval Aviation. Others looked at Service as a path to economic and social opportunity. My uncle and grandfather were such volunteers. Others sought adventure. In some rare cases, there were examples of those in civil trouble who were offered an option to serve or go to jail.
Whatever the case, all who have served, from the Commander-in-Chief, the President, to the last enlistee in any Service, took the following oath: "I, having been commissioned or enlisted in United States Armed Forces, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, so help me God".
It is important to note that one does not swear to support the President, the Country, the flag, or a particular service, but rather the Constitution which symbolizes all these things. It is why this country is different from others.
From that moment on, servicemembers lives changed forever. As their training and assignments progressed, there was a profound change in their thoughts about Service to country. All eventually came to realize that it is the honor, the privilege, and the sacred duty to serve their country become the collective motivators. Some may serve a minimum length of time in service; others may stay for a career.
All became veterans.
Once in Service, those that joined had an expectation that they would be provided the tools, the training, and the resources necessary to serve. The things that they would need to fight and win. During their service, they developed a sense of brotherhood in the organizations where they were assigned. The country asked them to go to far-away places; accomplish extraordinary things; live in austere, humble conditions; and when called upon, to offer the ultimate sacrifice, their lives - they did this "together". They lived by words like, "Honor, Courage, Commitment," Semper Fideles, or Semper Paradis. These servicemembers wore the "Cloth of their Country" proudly.
So, it's these three simple reasons that make service special. They served in an honorable and respected profession, they were given the tools to accomplish their mission, and they relished the camaraderie and brotherhood of those who were on the same journey. It is very much like the brotherhood here at St. Sebastian's, a life-long commitment to "Love God, Work Hard, and Take Good Care of one Another."
Of these three reasons, it is the commitment to serve with one another that is the strongest motivator, a bond that is never compromised or broken. When asked why someone in service left, it was always that my country abandoned me or my country didn't give me the resources to be proud of my profession. When asked why they stayed they would cite the last reason, I couldn't leave those with whom I serve. This is the reason veterans go to reunions to reminisce about their Service together, because there are no events in life that compare to the challenges of Service, working as a team - in peace or war. The mini-series, Band of Brothers, (which I believe was shown at Seb's this past semester), is an excellent example of the concept of brotherhood. I rarely miss a reunion of the squadrons in which I served or the organizations which I led.
I suspect some here today are veterans and many of you have relatives and friends who are veterans. We're here this day to honor all our heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage, and their dedication, and to say thank you for their sacrifices in peacetime and war. On Veterans Day, I personally take time to remember and honor those in my family who served and inspired my own service.
First, my grandfather, Major Walter E. Black, US Army Reserve. He walked off a farm with an eighth-grade education in 1905, enlisted in the Maryland National Guard, 5" Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. Ten years later, in 1916, then 2nd LT Black, and the 58th Battalion, G Company were deployed to chase and capture the Mexican revolutionary general, Pancho Villa, on the Mexican border at Eagle Pass, Texas. In 1917, then CAPT Black's unit, H Company, was sent to France in support of General Pershing's American Expeditionary Force in the Great War. His outfit sailed to Brest and from there marched 525 miles to the front in 31 days. His unit immediately entered the fight Meuse Argonne offensive. There were over 26,000 US servicemen killed and over 120,000 wounded during that campaign. Two of the soldiers in his company were awarded the Medal of Honor, one posthumously. My grandfather never talked about his experience. It took a speech that I gave a few years ago to do research on "what he did in the war" to understand his service and sacrifice. He returned to civilian life following the war.
Next, my uncle, Wilbur Ulle was a young maritime student in the late 1930s. Upon graduation from the Pennsylvania Maritime Academy, this young Merchant Marine officer, and Naval reservist, served on ships assigned to move war material back and forth between the US and Europe - the run from the US through Iceland to Murmansk and back. Although America was not yet at war, the ships on which he served plied submarine infested waters to get needed goods to the war-ravaged continent. On 7 December 1941, he was enroute to Rejkavik, Iceland. He was immediately commissioned an Ensign in the Navy. For the next four years, he sailed in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters serving on several ships including the jeep aircraft carrier, USS Guadalcanal. As an engineering officer on that ship, he participated in the capture of the German submarine, U-505. Commander Wilbur Ulle returned to civilian life following the war.
In 1950, my cousin, John Pels, joined the Marine Corps and trained to become a fighter pilot. 1st Lt John Pels served in the Korean War and while flying his F9F Panther in his first squadron, he was killed on a training mission preparing for combat, the ultimate sacrifice serving our country overseas. He didn't come home.
These "servant warriors" were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in difficult times. They rose to the nation's call because they wanted to protect our nation and our values as detailed in our Constitution.
Today, my oldest son, Navy Captain "Beau" Massenburg, continues to serve as a Program Manager at Patuxent River Maryland. A little over a year ago, he returned safely from an overseas tour on the staff of Commander, Carrier Strike Group Five embarked in USS Ronald Reagan in the Far East. He came back to see his family only 17 days in this two-year unaccompanied assignment.
Instead of watching from the sidelines of history, today's future veterans are participants in making history. I had that privilege fifty years ago to the day. On the 9th of November 1973, I flew a 12-hour patrol off the coasts of Israel and Egypt in support of U.S. Forces countering the Soviet Mediterranean Fleet during the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a young pilot. The more history changes, the more it is repeated.
"Freedom is not Free!"
While I take today to honor and remember veterans, I also honor them throughout the year by contributing to local veteran's organizations. I support and contribute to the New England Center and Home for Veterans. The organization's president is retired Navy Captain Andy McCawley, a former Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln. The "Home's" mission is to provide Massachusetts' homeless veterans temporary, and when necessary, permanent shelter with opportunities to return to productive lives through training and job placement.
I also support those veterans who have returned from the most recent wars with severe physical and mental injuries including addressing Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Veteran Suicides, and Veteran Mental Health through the "Run to Home Base", a partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox organization. Each year, many organizations support fund raising through the actual "Run" in July, starting, and finishing at Fenway Park. Led by retired Army Brigadier Jack Hammond, participation grows at this event to support of inpatient care to those who are suffering from the consequences of war. Carolyn, Ronan, Tiernan, and I have participated in this event each year.
Your presence here today and that of the people gathered across America is a tribute to all servicemen and women and to their Families. It is a way to say that you remember and honor their sacrifice.
From the Soldiers who shivered and starved through the winter at Valley Forge, to the doughboys crouched in the muddy trenches of France, to the platoon who patrolled the steamy jungles of Vietnam, to the young men and women who patrolled the mountains of Afghanistan and to the Marines and soldiers who fought in the dusty stretches of the desert in Iraq - we remember and honor them all. As I have closed all my speeches throughout my career, I always end with remembering our country when it was first challenged as a nation during the War of 1812. During the war, the British had sailed into Baltimore Harbor and attacked Fort McHenry which had been built to guard the seaward entrance to the city. An American lawyer, Francis Scott Key was aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant to negotiate the release of prisoners. During the night of September 13—14, 1814, he witnessed the horrific bombardment, yet at dawn the next day, the Flag of our nation still flew over the fort. This event inspired him to write the "Defense of Fort McHenry", the first verse of which became our National Anthem. The fourth verse of that poem is the one by which I, as a veteran, am most inspired.
"O! thus be it ever when freeman shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation,
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land,
Praise the power that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then Conquer We Must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - "In God is our Trust,"
And the Stars Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave,
O'er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave."
May we continue to pray to God that we be "blest with vict'ry and peace."
Thank you for your participation today. God bless St. Sebastian's, God bless our Service men and women who continue to serve today in harm's way around the world, God Bless all veterans who have served and sacrificed, and God bless America.
... and for Mr. Salomone ... GO NAVY! BEAT ARMY!"