Fidelity. It is a term of great meaning to me, particularly of late. It is not a term that often springs up in casual conversation. But today, I heard fidelity used in a context that struck a chord in my peace-loving heart.
I had the honor today of attending the commissioning of U.S.S. New Hampshire, the Navy’s fifth and latest Virginia class nuclear fast-attack submarine. Only 3,000 civilian tickets were available nationwide. The place was the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the oldest Navy shipyard in the United States. The New Hampshire currently stands as the most powerful warship in the American arsenal and I found myself close enough to its sleek black back rising up at its mooring to lob a tennis ball onto its main deck.
I attended this ceremony will a horde of mixed feelings regarding war, military might, aggression and the use and misuse of power. I couldn’t shake my sour thoughts regarding the Iraq War and the mental image of the first Marine from my hometown of Beverly killed in combat this past week, and honored yesterday at his local parish.
But with a father who is a Navy veteran from WWII’s Pacific theater and a survivor from the battle of Linguayan who narrowly avoided an untimely visit to Nagasaki, a brother who is a retired Naval engineering officer and another brother who is a retired marine, I have, on occasion, been able to divorce my distaste of the bloodshed and crass horror of war from the singular nobility of those who choose to sacrifice and serve our country and assume that most terrifying of roles most of us would or could not voluntarily assume ourselves.
There were many eloquent speakers presenting from the the Navy, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics and federal and state legislatures. There was a talented Exeter high school sophomore who belted out a stirring version of the Star Spangled Banner despite the obvious butterflies in her stomach distracting from her course.
But when I heard the ship’s sponsor, Cheryl McGuinness, talk to the sailors who would man the ship, steering its power in protection of our interests, listened to her comments regarding their promise to approach their task with the utmost fidelity, I was more than moved. All of these men (there are no women on the sub) have pledged themselves to face unthinkable possibilities without a doubt in their hearts, with pure fidelity in their purpose under less than ideal circumstances. Yet they have willingly assumed this responsibility with honor and pride.
What is the lesson in this? One might hate the war itself and its horrible consequences. But one cannot possible take issue with these brave men willing to mount and man the most deadly of war machines to preserve our freedoms, however they might be defined. Puts our daily annoyances into complete, hyper-transparent perspective. Puts any casual and cavalierly selfish interest to shame.