The list of events in which men and women have given their lives for this country is a long one.
Memorial Day is America’s day of remembrance and reverence, to honor of the men and women who have died while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
As American military men and women now play an ever-increasing role in peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and other operations around the world, other than war, service members are increasingly at risk of capture by hostile forces.
It was on August 17, 1955 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10631, introducing the Code of Conduct for Members of the United States Armed Forces.
The Code of Conduct came about mostly as a response to the North Korean exploitation of American prisoners of war for political propaganda during the Korean War. Since then, all members of the United States Armed Forces receive training in the Code of Conduct at various times during their military service.
Service members who have been captured know The Code as a firm foundation of strength and honor that helped them endure one of the most difficult times in their military careers.
The Code of Conduct is based on values and traditions that date back to the American Revolution. The Code outlines principles and values that have guided U.S. prisoners of war and potential prisoners for nearly 250 years.
The Code of Conduct is expressed in six articles that define the obligations and responsibilities of U.S. service members in harm’s way:
I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them in every way.
When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country or its allies or harmful to their cause.
I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
Although the Code of Conduct is not a law or regulation, it does align with the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, especially the parts that deal with conduct in the face of the enemy, conduct while evading capture, and conduct while a prisoner of war.
The Code of Conduct is a code of honor. As it turns out, one time in Vietnam, I was declared missing in action, although I never did become a prisoner of war. In my guts, I know for sure that as demanding as the Code of Conduct might be, almost every U.S. prisoner of war would have done his best to hold on to it, to keep it close, knowing it to be a true, meaningful, firm foundation of strength during captivity.
To faithfully follow the Code of Conduct is to summon within yourself the greatest gathering of motivation, perseverance, endurance, resilience, bravery, courage, true grit, and whatever else it takes to survive with honor the physical and emotional trial of being a prisoner of war.
Since the introduction of the Code of Conduct in 1955, The Code has changed only twice. The first time was when some of the words were adjusted to make The Code gender neutral. The second time was after the Vietnam War, to allow that service members may provide their captors with more than just name, rank, social security number, and date of birth.
The change was intended to give prisoners some discretion when facing torture and other life-threatening circumstances, without willingly giving their captors information that violates The Code, even in the face of physical and emotional torture.
Surprisingly, the Code of Conduct surfaces in my mind from time to time, especially the phrase “. . . I will keep faith . . . I will [not] take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades.” It is remarkable what things hold firm in an old man’s memory.
Sometimes, when I least expect it, some part of The Code flashes in my mind, and reasserts itself as a conscious reminder that guides my behavior in some ordinary moment of everyday life. Evidently, even after all these years, pieces of The Code still whisper behind me, once in a while, on an ordinary day.
Happy Memorial Day, America
It was on May 12, 1963, in his farewell address to the cadets at West Point, that General Douglas MacArthur spoke these words to the men and women of the Long Gray Line:
“From one end of the world to the other, [American men and women] have drained deep the chalice of courage. I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.”
“In my dreams, I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always, there echoes and re-echoes