THE JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS
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Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.
Vol. 12, No. 2
www.stuffofheroes.com
(626) 791-8973
©1998, 2014 William A. Cohen, PhD


Duty Before Self

On June 3rd, 1905, the Russian Admiral Zinovy P. Rozhdestvenski was a prisoner on a Japanese ship. Only a few days earlier he had commanded a large Russian fleet, during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. He had been defeated, badly wounded and was captured by Admiral Togo Heihachiro at the Battle of Tsushshima. However Admiral Heihachiro spoke to him not as conqueror, but as one professional to another: “Defeat is a common fate of a soldier and there is nothing to be ashamed of in it,” Admiral Heihachiro told him. “The great point is whether we have performed our duty . . .. For you, especially, who fearlessly performed your great task until you were seriously wounded, I beg to express my sincerest respect . . .” It has always been so, for those in and out of uniform.

General Ronald Fogleman, when Chief of Staff of the Air Force, pointed out that duty before self, or “service before self” as it is listed as one of the Air Force core values, must be accomplished regardless of difficulty, and sometimes at tremendous sacrifice.

Because of prejudice against African-Americans, General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. suffered terribly while at West Point for his entire four years as a cadet. But he persevered. On graduation with the class of 1936, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, the same as his classmates. He won the respect of his classmates despite the prejudices against him. And below General Davis’ photograph in the The Howitzer, the annual yearbook of West Point are the words:

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.” These words were prophetic.

Davis was denied the opportunity to take flying training. The West Point Superintendent was sympathetic, but could only advise him to take a commission in the infantry and to have patience and that his time would eventually come.

He took that advice and despite confronting additional forms of bigotry, “. . . he would not be denied the chance to serve his country,” General Fogleman observed. “He aggressively pursued the opportunity to fly and led the initial cadre of Tuskegee Airman through flight training in 1941. Next, he commanded the first all-black U.S. fighter squadron in combat during World War II, helping disprove myths about blacks’ inability to fly and fight.

“Subsequently, General Davis led the first all-black group to great distinction in Europe. His 332nd Fighter Group never lost a single bomber on 200 escort missions. Moreover, it earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for a 1,600-mile escort mission to Berlin that resulted in the downing of three ME-262 jets in March, 1945. Ultimately, General Davis enjoyed a long and distinguished military career in which he played a pivotal role in the successful integration of African-Americans into our Air Force. We can learn much from his extraordinary perseverance and willingness to subordinate personal concerns to serving his country – even under the toughest of circumstances.”

Thirty years after his retirement from the Air Force, General Davis was given a singular honor. In recognition for his many accomplishments in and out of combat, for consistently performing duty before self, he was promoted to the rank of full (four-star) general.

President Bill Clinton said, “General Davis is here today as proof that a person can overcome adversity and discrimination, achieve great things, turn skeptics into believers; and through example and perseverance, one person can bring truly extraordinary change.”

 


THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS:
“The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty.” — General George S. Patton, Famous U.S. WW II General

 

Recent Linked Articles by Dr. Cohen, not Published in the Journal of Leadership Applications:

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