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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Leading with Character: Service Above Self

Signalman First Class Douglas Munro is the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient, and he is one of the few Coast Guard members to die serving in the line of duty.

This week I had the pleasure of speaking (virtually) with the Lodi Rotary Club in Lodi, California, where a friend of mine serves as president. I admire and respect Rotary – it’s an honorable organization with a clear mission and purpose, supported by strong core values: service, fellowship, diversity, integrity, and leadership.

Shared Core Values

While in the role of superintendent (president) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy from 2011-2015, I participated as an active member of the New London Rotary Club. Getting involved with Rotary was a natural fit for me, since the organization’s motto “Service Above Self” sounds a lot like the U.S. Coast Guard with its core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. In fact, all of the U.S. armed forces are devoted to protecting and defending our nation and serving its people.

Memorializing Those Who Gave Their Lives

Monday, May 29, is Memorial Day. It’s the day we remember members of the U.S. armed forces who devoted themselves and gave the full measure of their lives in service to our great nation. Those dedicated men and women took Service Above Self to a whole new level in making the ultimate sacrifice. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and to be worthy of their sacrifice.

It’s stunning to think that over the years, so few have given so much for so many. Did you know that, at any given time, only about one half of one percent of Americans are serving in the military? Of the entire U.S. population, only about 7 percent are veterans, down from about 18 percent in 1980, according to the Pew Research Center. Those facts should cause us to reflect – to be grateful to those who have modeled the way by serving, but to also recognize the need to instill in our youth a desire to do their part and step up to serve.

Proud to be an American

Every member of the U.S. armed forces swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s our nation’s foundational document – our “anchor to windward,” which embodies our cherished freedom and way of life. Memorial Day always fills me with pride in our heroes who served and perished in all wars across the generations and centuries, starting with the Revolutionary War up to the Global War on Terror.

I want to briefly recount the story of one of those heroes – a Coast Guard hero – who served with distinction in the Pacific theater during WWII. Signalman First Class Douglas Munro is the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient, and he is one of the few Coast Guard members to die serving in the line of duty. His incredible story has inspired generations of Coast Guardsmen and Marines. Read on to learn why.

A Coast Guard Hero

Eighty-one years ago, Petty Officer Munro was coxswain of a landing craft delivering then-Lieutenant Colonel Chesty Puller’s Marines to the island of Guadalcanal. Shortly after delivering the Marines to the beach, he was ordered back to extract the landing force due to overwhelming and unexpected resistance from the Japanese. Directing his fleet of 24 landing craft back to the island, all was going well until one of the heavier boats was slow to get off the beach. Petty Officer Munro brought his own boat close in to act as a shield and provide cover for the Marines against sniper fire. During the rescue, he was shot and killed. It is said that his last words were, “Did they make it off?”

A Sense of Pride

Service Above Self: that’s a quality that personified signalman first class Douglas Munro. It’s the quality that makes us proud of our heroes gone before, and proud of those serving today. We have a solemn duty to remember those heroes and their sacrifices. This Memorial Day, I hope everyone will honor those heroes by expressing pride in our armed forces, in our local communities, in our government institutions, and pride in our great Nation. A sense of shared national pride will bond us together as Americans. Together, we can mend the divides that threaten to weaken our country, and instead move America forward. We owe that to those who’ve died to preserve our way of life and to the next generation of young people – our children and grandchildren – who deserve the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Look in the mirror. As a leader, are you doing your part to instill in others a sense of pride and inspire others to step up to serve?

Please join me next time for more on Leading with Character.


If you enjoyed this post, please visit my website where you can sign up for my mailing list to get this blog in your inbox, and buy my book, Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters (proceeds from my book are donated to the US Coast Guard Academy to help develop the next generation of leaders of character): https://sandrastosz.com/book/breaking-ice-and-breaking-glass/

Sandra L. Stosz
Vice Admiral Stosz, a Homeland Security Today editorial board member, started out in the U.S. Coast Guard as an ensign serving on polar icebreakers, conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Her 40-year career is filled with leadership lessons gleaned while breaking ice and breaking glass as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a U.S. armed forces service academy. She finished her career as the first woman assigned as Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises. She has lectured widely on leadership, and has been featured on CSPAN and other media outlets. In 2012, Newsweek’s “The Daily Beast” named Vice Admiral Stosz to their list of 150 Women who Shake the World. Proceeds from “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters” will be donated to the US Coast Guard Academy James M. Loy Institute for Leadership.

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