Adam Steele had just buried his mother and decided to take time to do his annual blue highways journey. His father, in honor of his service in World War II, was buried in a Veteran’s cemetery. Spouses were often buried in the same plot, and that’s where his mother was buried. His mother’s death occurred over Memorial Day, and the cemetery was awash with flags at each of the white tombstones.
Adam had previously planned a blue highway tour through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas. The majesty of the simple white tombstones from his parents’ burial place called to him. He would dedicate this journey to his parents and visit the national cemeteries on his travel.
His first stop was the Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas. Situated on 15 acres, it was the resting place for over 11,000 veterans. One of those was Clarence Croft, a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his bravery in World War II. He single-handedly chased Japanese soldiers off of a strategically-held hill and chased them into a cave which he blew up with a grenade. He continued to serve in the Korean War and after leaving military service, he became a volunteer at the Fayetteville Veteran’s Hospital. As Adam read his story, he wondered what leads people to live such an honorable life.
Continuing his tour, Adam next stopped at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery, a resting place of at least 25,000 veterans. Fort Gibson was at the end of the Trail of Tears, named for the relocation march of Native Americans. This was where Adam learned of Sonuk Mikko, a Seminole Native American who fought for the North in the Civil War. Sonuk was in command of the First Indian Home Guards. When union soldiers came under attack and retreated, he led his troops to regain what the union soldiers had lost. Adam reflected on the honor of Sonuk, whose people had lost so much to those he was fighting for. What led him to such an honorable life?
The next stop was the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas, one of the 12 original national cemeteries. It is the resting place of over 22,000. One of those Adam discovered was Fitz Lee, a Medal of Honor recipient. Serving during the Spanish-American War, Lee was on the Florida off the shore of Cuba. A scouting party came under heavy fire and was stranded on shore. Several rescue efforts failed until Lee and three others went ashore at night and brought the scouting party to safety. Lee and his three colleagues were the last African American soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor for nearly a half-century. What led him to such an honorable life?
Adam next ventured into Nebraska and visited the Fort McPherson National Cemetery, the resting place of 10,000. This was where he learned the story of James Fous. He served in the Vietnam War. When a grenade was thrown into the encampment where he and his colleagues were, he jumped on the grenade saving the lives of others while losing his. He was 21 and was awarded the Medal of Honor. What led him to such an honorable life?
As Adam returned home he had a lot of time to reflect on the word honor. Certainly the soldiers he discovered were honorable in their actions. But could honor have a broader meaning? He was looking forward to discussions of what honor might mean in the workplace.
The stories that Adam discovered added dimensions to his understanding of honor. Honor is about courage, going beyond what’s expected, often at personal risk. Honor is about sacrifices that are extraordinary, and given without expecting any reciprocation. Honor is a reflection of personal values and often discharged without thought, and guided by a person’s conscience.
* * *
“Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.” – Lois McMaster Bujold (fiction writer)