‘Duty, Honor, Country’ versus ‘Army Values’

West Point’s superintendent created a firestorm among the American public with his announcement that the words “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY” have been deleted from the military academy’s mission statement.  The outrage goes far beyond West Point graduates; it includes veterans of all the services as well as civilians.

Those three hallowed words not only are West Point’s motto, but also serve as moral guideposts for leading one’s life.  The superintendent’s new mission statement substitutes the vague term “Army Values” for the simple and unequivocal “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.”

Let me tell you about amorphous “Army Values.”  During my first assignment to a tank company at Ft. Carson, Colorado, I was promoted from platoon leader, a job I truly loved, to executive officer (XO), or second in command of my unit.  Among my duties was officer-in-charge of the Arms Room, where all the company’s weapons were secured.  As such, my first order of business was to conduct an inventory.  What I found was surprising, to say the least: our company was missing a .50 caliber machine gun!  Not just any machine gun, but an M2 Browning “Ma Deuce,” the tank commander’s cupola-mounted weapon, capable of penetrating armored personnel carriers, trucks, and other equipment and turning enemy troops into mincemeat.

When I reported the missing machine gun to the company commander (CO), he was not at all surprised...or pleased.  “It’s been missing for years, probably lost in maintenance,” he said.  “Just sign the inventory as ‘all present and accounted for,’ or you’ll create a monumental problem for us.  Everybody signs.”

“But, Sir, that would be a felony, ‘falsifying an official document.’  I just can’t do that,” I replied.  “Besides, it’s not like we’re missing an empty magazine; it’s a .50 caliber machine gun!”

“Just sign the inventory.  That’s an order,” the CO insisted.

“That’s an illegal order, and I won’t do it,” I said.  “You can sign it yourself.”

That was the end of my military career.

“Army Values” call for following orders.  I knew I could not continue to work for that company commander, so I found a job at 4th Infantry Division Headquarters.  Months later, I learned that I had been utterly and unfairly trashed on my Officer’s Efficiency Report.  These OERs are generally inflated, so receiving even one bad report effectively terminates your career.  You’ll never make general — probably not even full colonel.  I wasn’t even sure I would make captain.

But I stood firm, without hesitation, because of...HONOR.  Strangely enough, this exact situation was a scenario presented in my DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY class at West Point in the summer of 1967 during Beast Barracks, or new cadet basic training.  A key facet of HONOR is always to take the harder, right path rather than the easier wrong one.

I grew up an Army brat.  My father, a World War II 9th Army Air Corps veteran, was commissioned through ROTC in 1949, just a couple of months after I was born.  He soon left Mom and me to serve as an infantry platoon leader in the Korean War.  Thereafter, we traveled the world — from Germany to Hawaii — as an Army family, living on military bases where, at reveille and retreat, everyone stopped to salute the flag.  By the time I graduated high school, I’d attended 13 different schools, but I loved the life and looked up to the adults in uniform all around me as the heroes they were.  All I ever wanted to do was serve as an Army officer.  But now that dream was over.

I couldn’t just let it go.  My personal sense of DUTY required me to pursue the matter further, so I went to my CO’s boss, the battalion commander.  He apparently knew about the missing machine gun and blew me off.  So I went further up the chain of command to his boss, the brigade commander.  He listened and took me seriously.  I never found out what transpired as a result, but I also never looked back on my decision to ensure that the truth would win out in the end.

I left the Army as soon as my five-year West Point commitment was up.  Several times in my civilian career, I was asked to do something that I knew was wrong.  Each time, I refused, the last with millions of dollars of stock options on the line.  But I had to live with myself.  Thankfully, I kept my job each time.

DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY are absolutes.  “Values,” be they Army or civilian, are transitory.  There is a reason why those three words were omitted from West Point’s mission statement, and it is not good.

In recent years, the United States Military Academy, the other service academies, and our armed forces in general — like much of Western Society — have all gone “woke.”  Divisive Marxist concepts, such as Critical Race Theory; transgender indoctrination; advancement based on race and sex over merit; and Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, have undermined unit cohesion and morale, destroyed attainment of military recruiting goals, and severely hampered our ability to fight and win wars. 

While it is true that West Point’s motto was incorporated into the mission statement only in 1998, the recent decision to drop those words, substituting imprecise and open-to-interpretation “Army Values,” only weakens and occludes what ought to be clear and unequivocal — especially in today’s dangerous and divisive world, when we are flirting with global thermonuclear war.  It is imperative that we get back on track now.  A first step is to enshrine DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY in the West Point mission statement.  Change it back, then get back to basics.

Tony Lentini is a 1971 West Point graduate who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army before departing the service in 1976.  Thereafter, he pursued a career in the energy industry, eventually becoming vice president of public and international affairs for two independent oil and gas companies.  He is a founder and board member of the MacArthur Society of West Point Graduates, which seeks to restore honor, fairness, merit-based advancement, and battlefield-relevant curricula to the United States Military Academy.

Image via Picryl.

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com