Earning Honor, Respect

Cub Reporters, Long- Lost Relatives, and American Legion Values

By Ladson F. Mills III

‘We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.’— C. S. Lewis

Former reporter turned College of Charleston adjunct Communications Professor, Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann, recently derided President Donald Trump for his low opinion of reporters. In a Charleston, South Carolina “Post and Courier” editorial; “The President, not the press, is the enemy of the people” Lattimore-Volkmann’s argument appears less reasoned discourse than political partisanship.

To accept her conclusion that, ‘even a partially conflicted American public unable or unwilling to trust investigative news reports over its fact-deficient president Trump is eroding our democracy,’ would require overlooking inconvenient facts.

In May 2016 Obama administration official Ben Rhodes, well known for his close personal and philosophical ties to President Obama, revealed in a “New York Times” Magazine interview the Obama administration’s low opinion of the press:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns They literally know nothing…

President Trump’s view while bombastic is a less severe indictment. An adage that, “it is better to be kicked in the teeth than patted on the head” readily comes to mind.

Dr. Lattimore-Volkmann’s emotional arguments offer nothing to dissuade the accuracy of Mr. Obama’s view. Her editorial is a timely example of Columbia University Sociologist C. Wright’s prediction that, ‘political and media institutions in modern mass society manipulate people into a crowd rather than as a group capable of autonomous thought and action.

She seems to confuse trust with the benefit of the doubt. While on the surface both appear the same, they are entirely different. Trust is earned and never granted irrespective of performance. It cannot be gained by lecturing or speaking with great authority.

Despite Lattimore-Volkmann’s obvious dislike of President Trump, it is Mr. Obama who believes that minimal life experience combined with advanced degrees hardly qualifies for trust. And there is very little about the modern press to inspire confidence. 

Several months ago, I received a call from what appears to be a long lost relative. After a thorough genealogical search my “distant cousin” found me. He is the child of well-known and respected Ivy League professor and a graduate of that same prestigious institution. Life for him began as one of privilege and world travel as his father gained accolades and visiting professorships.

As we visited, he became introspective when we spoke of the country’s current turmoil. He admitted for most of his life he believed himself to be privileged and special. Life’s painful blows altered his perspective.

He now embraces friends with different world views. He accepts that decent and intelligent people experience life differently. But more importantly, he learned that others have the right to their beliefs and opinions without having to withstand dismissive ridicule or scorn.

I recently spent a Saturday afternoon at American Legion Post 35 in Hampton, New Hampshire for the launch of my newly released book, “Abandoned Shipmate, The Destruction of Coast Guard Captain Ernie Blanchard.” This place was chosen because it is in the hometown of the book’s subject and members of his family remain active in the Post.

As I signed books and chatted with guests,  my wife spent time getting to know many who had come to support the family.

Later as we drove to our hotel, we admitted to being humbled by the depth of commitment and community involvement by those we had met. One man, a hospice volunteer, also volunteered to relieve family members in need a break. He did it to make sure that no one dies alone.

We learned that others volunteer at a mobile food van. They attend local events earning money for academic scholarships for those in need. They also visit shut-ins.

On this day the food left over from the launch was donated to a local church.

Although Ernie Blanchard graduated from a local high school over fifty years ago, I was impressed by the large number of his high school classmates who braved the snow and cold to be present. Among attendees was a high school girlfriend and now University of New Hampshire professor. A teammate from the school’s championship baseball team was there as well. But there was one story that especially touched my heart.

A lady shyly approached me with her high school yearbook and requested that I sign my name next to Ernie’s picture. She told me she had not known him well. During her senior year, she transferred from a parochial school and felt overwhelmed by the culture shock of the larger and unfamiliar surroundings. Although a well-known and popular student Ernie treated her with kindness and consideration. She had never forgotten him.

She followed his career throughout the years and was saddened by his tragic and needless death. She felt compelled to offer her support to his family.

I thought of the contrast of these three experiences having occurred in such rapid succession. The demanding self-importance of a professor and former reporter. The mature self-awareness of my long-lost relative.

And then there was American Legion Post 35 in Hampton, New Hampshire.

So, Dr. Lattimore-Volkmann, if you or anyone sharing your perspective should read this article here is a recommendation. Drive up to Hampton, New Hampshire, and head over to the American Legion Post 35. If a car is in the parking lot knock on the door and ask for a tour. 

Look around and get a sense of all the things this inspiring group of men and women do for others. You might be surprised to learn they demand nothing in return.

Head up to the second floor and check out the museum. It may be small, but it is telling. These good people stand on the shoulder of others who have been practicing self -sacrifice for decades.

Learn from their American Legion values, and you just might figure out how to gain the trust that has proven so elusive. 

The formula is simple. It is duty carried out with honor and integrity.

In other words; you earn it!

Ladson F. Mills III, a former Marine Corps Line Officer,and Navy Chaplain is the founder of Setebos-Sixpence Freelance Writing Ltd. He lives with his wife in Charleston, South Carolina. He is a regular contributor to The Covert Letter and Virtueonline. Mills’ book, Abandoned Shipmate, The Destruction of Coast Guard Captain Ernie Blanchard, hasrecently been released.