The Ethical Edge
The Art Of Integrity
WHEN CHARACTER WAS KING
“Conduct is what we do; character is who we are.
Character is the root of the tree; conduct is the fruit it bears.”
E. M. Bounds
Some kids want to be a fireman when they grow up but from the time I was a young boy I wanted to go to West Point and serve my country as an officer in the Army. With hard work, determination and some luck, I was able to live my dream and in 1969 entered the Academy as a plebe…a freshman.
By 1974, I was a young second lieutenant, stationed in Germany, and the world, it seemed, was falling apart. America was still reeling from the turmoil of the ‘60’s and the scars of the Vietnam War were much in evidence. The Army was a challenging place to be as it transitioned from the draft to an all-volunteer force. Drug and race problems were common place. Our Vice President, Spiro Agnew, and our President and Commander-in-Chief, Richard Nixon, had each resigned in disgrace.
I was a long way from home, looking for inspiration and perhaps validation that I had made the right choices in my life. I found it on the Armed Forces Radio in the form of weekly addresses by Ronald Reagan. At the time, he was the Governor of California, but no doubt, preparing to run for President. His message was full of optimism, patriotism and pride in our great country. At a time when so many were finding fault with our traditional values, he revered them. He gave me hope that we were on the right path and that there would be better days ahead. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I made it a point to get near a radio and take it all in.
Years later, after he had been President, I had the opportunity to meet him and tell him personally how much those radio “talks” meant to me. Not surprisingly, he was very gracious and self-deprecating. Instead he thanked me for my service to my country!
In 2011, I met Peggy Noonan, Reagan’s former speech writer and the author of seven books. I told her my story about my days as a lieutenant in Germany and my appreciation for Reagan’s messages. When she offered to inscribe one of her books, naturally I chose “When Character Was King-The Story of Ronald Reagan”. On the inside cover she wrote, “He gave us hope”.
It remains one of my most treasured possessions!
Guy Marsala can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org