The Truly Brave Are Seldom the Admirals or the Generals

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S., a time for honoring the brave, the wounded, the departed.  And though we can all hope (and work towards) a global awareness that war is a poor way to resolve the problems of humanity, until then there are those who serve to serve.

Early in December 1941 an unknown cook aboard the USS West Virginia stationed in Pearl Harbor was busy preparing Sunday mess for his crewmates when the attack that launched America into war occurred. His name was Doris Miller and he would be the first black U.S. sailor to receive the Navy Cross.

As the ship began to rock from the exploding airplane bombs, Dorie, as his shipmates called him, rushed topside. To his horror he saw a deck littered with wounded and dying. Dodging the incoming fire, he moved as many as possible, including his own captain, to safety.

But soon it became apparent that too many were being shot by the incoming airplane fire to protect his crew mates just by moving them to shelter. Something had to be done by someone.

So without training and without the protection of a helmet or a jacket, Dorie Miller took control of a 50 caliber machine gun and began firing. For a quarter of an hour, the cook fought – fought for the lives of the men he made coffee for, fought for the very men who ate the potatoes he had peeled the night before.

When the smoke cleared, no one had counted the planes he had shot down but his gun was burning oven-hot.  Later Admiral Chester Nimitz would himself pin the Navy Cross to his uniform and thank him for his defense of so many lives.

And though his actions that day were shown in the movie Pearl Harbor, the film does not record that only a year later his family would receive a letter telling of his death in the sinking of the Liscome Bay by a single massive enemy torpedo explosion. 

But the bravery of those who choose to serve does not stop there.

Consider the courage of the now famed Tuskegee Airmen, black airman of the same era, who fought not only the enemy of the day, but also their own generals for the right to fly and defend.

On January 20, 2012 George Lucas will release a new movie financed with millions of his own dollars, entitled Red Tails that tells in stunning detail the courage of this brave first black flyers who, like Dorie Miller, fought to serve AND save.

Prior to their arrival, U.S. protective fighter escorts very often would evaporate as the enemy attack planes approached. The Tuskegee Airmen understood war very differently. For them war was not about kill counts or personal safety but rather how many men they were able to bring back safety to their wives, to their children.

Within the Hospitality Industry, we too serve. Each day, often in countries where our hotels and restaurants are sites marked for attack and violence, we work, we serve – hoping to remind all through food and beverage, through hospitality that each life, each moment is worth honoring every day, every year.

Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2011