As we celebrate Veterans Day and honor the men and women who have selflessly served our nation, it is important to understand that this special day is about both people and about ideas.
At his final speech to the Corps of Cadets at West Point in 1962, General Douglas MacArthur, America’s heroic commander in the Pacific Theater in World War II, declared that there is a great moral code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard our country.
In explaining that moral code, General MacArthur uttered perhaps the most famous words ever spoken at West Point: “Duty, honor, country.”
These three hallowed words, he said, “reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope seems forlorn.”
These qualities are not just restricted to the graduates of West Point.
When I was young, I knew a man named Mas Odoi, who was Japanese American like me.
Mr. Odoi was in his 60s at the time and owned a local TV repair shop in Gardena, my little hometown in Southern California.
My friend Mas and his twin brother Hiro were students at the University of Washington, but they, like other Japanese Americans at the start of World War II, were interned in one of the many relocation camps set up around the country.
Despite this hardship, Mr. Odoi was one of the strongest patriots I knew.
When given the chance, Mas and his brother decided to prove their loyalty to their country and show that they were red-blooded American boys like anyone else by joining the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the famed unit of Japanese Americans, which fought in battles across North Africa, France, Italy and Germany.
Mas deployed to the front near Florence, Italy, and in April 1945, he and his comrades were given the order to charge a German line.
Mas charged, but a mortar shell dropped behind him and blew him through the air.
He had received a terrible wound to his throat and he was bleeding very badly.
He managed to press his thumb between his heart and the wound, and finally the bleeding stopped.
In that terrible moment, when his life was in the balance, what was he thinking?
Although he was half a world away from where General MacArthur was commanding American forces in the Pacific, my friend Mas was thinking those thoughts that would one day be spoken by the general—duty, honor, country.
As he lay wounded, he said that he felt proud. His parents would be proud. His hometown would be proud. He had shed his blood for America and he had fulfilled his duty to his country and to himself.
Mas survived and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated unit in the history of American warfare, earning 18,000 awards in two years, including almost 9,500 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, and 21 Congressional Medals of Honor.
Mas eventually ran for Congress, but he never talked about his own heroism.
General MacArthur would not have been surprised at my friend Mas’s modesty.
Speaking to the cadets at West Point, he said that this great moral code of conduct and chivalry teaches “you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success” and “to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of wisdom and the meekness of true strength.”
So as we celebrate Veterans Day, let us salute those brave individuals who have served in our nation’s armed forces, and let us remember the timeless moral compass that General MacArthur said should be our guide: duty, honor, country.