What can we learn about leadership from a WW II vet?


January 2009.

“It could always be worse. The days, in which I feel sorry for myself, I just go into my top drawer of my desk and pull out this newspaper. This newspaper reminds me that it could always be worse and it always fires me up.”, WWII Veteran, Glenn

The newspaper Glenn pulled out of the top drawer of his desk was a clipping from when the US declared war on Japan WW II.  At this moment I had to ask. “Glenn did you serve in WWII?”

“Yes, I did!” Glenn was a proud soldier of the 164th infantry in WWII.  Who was the 164th? 164th was the first United States Army unit to conduct an offensive operation against the enemy in any theatre in WWII.  What was their training camp like prior to the war? When they arrived at their training camp, the Claiborne camp, it was more a name than a place. The camp was a skeleton wish for a training site. No latrines were completed. Roads were narrow pathways between wooden frames to be used for tents. The camp was lagging behind schedule like everything else and to think the 164th was to be the first to engage in military action in WWII. They not only engaged when they arrived in the Philippines, They were ready! The First Marine commander, Major General A. A. Vandegrift, was so impressed by the soldiers’ stand that he issued a unit commendation to the regiment for having demonstrated “an overwhelming superiority over the enemy.

Yet, no matter how dire the circumstances Glenn and the 164th infantry pressed on.

One of the many stories he shared with me was that when he was being deployed back to the states he was only 3 days from earning his next “stripe”. He went to his commander and asked him if he was still going to get his next stripe even though he was leaving 3 days from earning his next stripe. The commander looked him dead in the eye and said, “Soldier, you have fought hard, you laid your life on the line for your brothers, your family and your country. You have done well. Soldier, please listen carefully, this is the U.S. Army and nothing is ever given..ever, it is earned.”  Glen said to me, at the time he was upset but he understood.  To Glen, this moment made an impact on his entire life. He understood if he wanted something he had to earn it.

As leader he taught me.

  1. It takes guts to be a leader. Even when you are scared do things if it the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.
  2. No matter your situation you can pull through it. It could always be worse.
  3. Earn it! Don’t expect things to be given to you. Go out there and get it!
  4. It’s not just about you. Every soldier past, present and future realize once they sign on the dotted line to serve our country it’s no longer just about them anymore.
  5. Have meaningful conversations-Glenn and I spoke in January 2010 but we had been neighbors for 5 years. During those 5 years all I knew was he served in the military. Yet, didn’t know where or how they served. Was I hesitant to ask? Sure, I was. But I am glad the opportunity came up to ask.

In October of 2010 Glenn passed away at the age of 88.  I was fortunate enough to see Glenn a few months before he passed away and I asked him if there was anything I can do. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Please don’t forget about those who served and those who are serving.”

Tony Jalan

Equipping, Educating, Empowering, and encouraging others to become better leaders!

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