A WWII Combat Veteran’s Plea for a Rebirth of Courage, Integrity and Honor

Omaha Beach Cemetery


I may be one of the youngest living American combat veterans of World War II, having run away
from home at the age of 14 to cross into Canada and join the Canadian Army in early 1942. When the war ended I was 18 years old, convalescing from a chest wound sustained in combat in the European Theater. I had not yet finished middle school. The story of the rest of my life had yet to be written.

It has been a good life but, like all lives, not without its challenges. Over the course of it, I rose from poverty to become a senior executive at a large corporation and, after retiring, had the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to a national volunteer organization. But the things that I cherish most are the blessings of being married to a wonderful woman for 60 plus years and the children that we raised together. It is to honor her memory and to help those children (and my grandchildren) that I now write to you.

I was born 92 years ago in 1927 (when Calvin Coolidge was President) and have lived through all of the serious social, political and military upheavals of the 20th century. In all that time, I have never been more concerned about our country than I am today. Before I explain why, I want you to know I am an independent who leans Republican and was not a “Never Trump[er].” While I did not vote for him, once elected I was pulling for him to succeed because I want America to succeed.

I mention my record because people are defined by their actions, and what they have done during their time on this earth is a partial window into who they are. I also mention it because my life’s experiences have shown me what leadership is, and isn’t.

Different situations make different demands on those seeking to lead. After the war, my climb up the corporate ladder was, at times, very hard. But I got there and, in doing so, came to understand that real leaders must possess courage, wisdom, and the ability to inspire those being led. Meaning that — among other things — authentic leadership requires intellectual curiosity, intelligence, fact-based decision making, empathy, and enough humility to change one’s mind when the facts change. Combat soldiers used a simpler test to measure their officers. A commander who put others at risk to benefit himself (and his ego) was unfit to command.

I get no pleasure in stating that Donald Trump, who has become our commander in chief through a political process, is the most unfit President in my lifetime and, I suspect, in the history of this country.

I cannot fathom whether he really believes in a “deep state” conspiracy involving the FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department, Pentagon, and even — apparently, the National Weather Service.

I do, however, know this. That what makes our country exceptional is our institutions, which have taken us over 200 years to develop. Their value is that they force our political leaders to go through a decision-making process when they exercise power. These processes don’t guarantee good decisions. But they greatly increase our chances of achieving one. It is easy to see the poor — and in this case, deadly — outcome of no process. In Syria, President Trump decided — without any meaningful analysis, counsel from others, or warning to our own military or our Kurdish and other allies — that he was going to end an “endless war” in that country.

All wars take the lives of soldiers, civilians, and their families. I landed at Normandy after D Day in 1944, and was then in combat for the next six months. I have never described what I saw and was called upon to do as a teenage soldier then and will not do so now, except to say that I understand the cost of war as only a combat veteran can.

I also know that in a very dangerous world we need friends willing to stand with us in the crucible of combat. They will not do so when our leaders lack courage, wisdom, and the ability to inspire those being led. They will not trust, or follow, a President who is unfit to command. Nor, ultimately, will we.

I tell you with a heavy heart that Donald Trump’s reckless, impulsive decision to abandon our Kurdish allies without warning is a self-inflicted wound that delights our enemies and deeply distresses our friends. And there have been many other wounds.

Besides weakening us abroad, Donald Trump has weakened us at home by relentlessly attacking the institutions that are the bedrock of American exceptionalism. Institutions that he has not contributed to, does not value, and apparently does not understand. That is, the same institutions that I fought for and watched men die for.

I never imagined many of the things that I have seen in my life, including the situation we now face. My prayer is to live long enough to see a renewal of courage, personal integrity, and honor in this nation. So that when I take my final leave of our beloved land there stands a City on a Hill whose light shines as brightly for you as it has for me.

The United States has stood on that hilltop before — more than once. But we do not stand there now and will not in the future unless we find the courage and wisdom to replace a commander-in-chief who is palpably unfit to command. I implore each of you to do so in the names of your families and mine.

Charles Scott is a WWII combat veteran. 


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