We all knew Secretary Shultz as a man of great wisdom, competence, and compassion. And it was with his hard-earned title of U.S. Marine that he forged his steady identity in war and the decades following.
This morning, as the sun rose on rifle ranges across the Marines’ far-flung outposts, from Spain to Okinawa, from North Carolina to California, Marines lying prone behind their weapons heard the familiar words, “All ready on the left. All ready on the right. All ready on the firing line. Shooters, watch your targets.”
Nearly eight decades ago a young George Shultz, answering his country’s call, heard those same words, joining a Corps unconfused about its role in protecting the experiment that we call America.
He mastered his grim skills and proved “ready on the firing line” when he led his sailors and Marines into the cauldron of amphibious assaults in the merciless Pacific campaign. Alongside his comrades-in-arms, Captain Shultz experienced the human cost of war, to his final days recalling lads he lost on the islands.
Combat strips the veneer off any human being, for better or worse laying bare their character. Coming home a man of war, his combat experience made this good man better, as he practiced Psalm 37 that says, “There is a future for a man of peace.” So to peace he gave his best effort.
Having seen the worst of mankind, the Marine in him was contemptuous of danger. With a sharpened moral compass, he recognized it might be a crummy world, but we were part of it.
Once again “ready on the firing line,” he built his post-war life, carrying his prototypical Marine character into academia, business, and government service. Such service was a citizen’s duty and privilege to this Marine home from the war. Never half-stepping when called to serve his country, never found wanting in judgment or integrity, he represented the best of America, without doubt or moral confusion. He knew what he stood for and, just as importantly, what he wouldn’t stand for, and was the epitome of that rare breed, a man of thought and action.
Having experienced the ravages of war and navigated minefields in battle, he applied his Marine Corps teambuilding values to political minefields, working across party lines to strengthen America, reinforcing our security by building trust with allies, and unambiguously fighting for civil rights at home and human rights abroad, all the while
engaging adversaries firmly to build a better world.
For every advantage George Shultz enjoyed—family, education, survival on the battlefield—he paid his country back with interest. Tested under the harshest, most malign circumstances, he stood every test with fortitude, bringing America’s natural dignity to the world stage. From the United Nations to Moscow and beyond, he proved himself the quintessential Marine who could stand and deliver in “every clime and place,” a Marine who naturally respects others, but not to be trifled with. Yes, indeed, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”
For behind those blue eyes that sparkled with mischief was a spine of steel, and in defense of our values that Marine’s chill blue eyes would freeze an opponent.
The Marines had taught him that for any leader, trust was the “Coin of the Realm.” A member of our Greatest Generation, he demonstrated that our country need not be perfect to be worth fighting for, but recognized too our responsibility to live up to America’s promise, to always be crafting a more perfect Union, a society where all shared in its opportunities.
Everything I love about America I found in our friend George Shultz, the Marine who fostered friendship and understanding. Each of us within his arc felt the majesty of this great American’s impact even when it’s hard to explain his impact. As they do today, at some points in life, our words fail us.
Yet I can say this: George Shultz is a Marine. His example lives on in the hearts of today’s Marines for he proved always “ready on the firing line.” So long as our Republic breeds such leaders, our experiment will survive, it will thrive, just as Secretary Shultz said it would, the eternally optimistic warrior.
Semper Fi, Marine. I’ll see you again on the firing line.