adventure of excellence is not for the faint of heart.”
— from “A Passion for Excellence” by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin
Had a weekend of
appreciating excellence, starting with the parade Saturday morning
celebrating Marine aviation, which began in Marblehead 100 years
Marine Corps parade honor guard.
It was a wonderful
parade, though of course the word “excellence” applies to the Marine
Corps in general, including its aviation arm. My neighbor Don
Humphreys, a Marine and a pilot himself, organized the centennial
event that commemorated the
first solo flight by Marine Lt. Alfred
Cunningham over Marblehead Harbor in August 1912.
Until Don began telling
me about this project a year ago, I knew only about the Navy
connection, the Marblehead-Beverly birthplace debate. I was familiar
with naval aviation, having been married to a naval officer who
initially trained at Pensacola, with its Naval Aviation Museum. The
Navy focus, of course, was airplanes that were based on aircraft
carriers, a totally excellent process that never ceased to amaze me.
Until the Marine
helicopters flew over Salem Harbor and my house on Saturday and
Sunday to begin and end the celebration, I had associated
helicopters with the Army in Vietnam. The Marines landed four of
theirs at the school playing field down the street; my partner, Chip
Ford, and I were able to view them up close over the weekend and get
a free commemorative Frisbee for my grandkids. We went down again to
see the giant CH-53E Super Stallion, back from service in
Afghanistan, take off on a hot summer morning, sending its audience
a magnificent breeze.
rolls down the street during festivities to honor
Marblehead's role as the birthplace of Marine aviation.
Chip Ford/Courtesy photos
I’d gone to the parade
to applaud the Marines who marched or rode in the parade; didn’t
expect the entertainment they brought with them! The Honor Guard,
bands, bagpipes, Junior Marine ROTC and women Marine parade marchers
— not to mention the Humvees with their turrets turning to the
crowd. So much to see, I know I missed some of it.
As I was thinking about
the Army, Navy and Marines, I learned that Chip’s and my good friend
John MacMillan died on Saturday at the excellent VA hospital in
Bedford. John was a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the
Massachusetts Air National Guard, from which he retired at the rank
of master sergeant when his distinguished career came to a close. He
then became a Republican/taxpayer activist, an active patriot
throughout his retirement years.
All branches of the
service recruit young men and women by offering the chance to be
excellent, “the best you can be.” This mission seems to work; things
go wrong when the civilians and politicians and some of the brass
become "the military-industrial complex" and waste the treasure that
is given them. But that's another subject for another day.
helicopter captures the crowd's attention during Marine
aviation festivities in Marblehead.
Chip Ford/Courtesy photos
When I wasn’t running
out the door to see the helicopters, I spent much of the weekend
watching the Olympics, where another kind of excellence was
celebrated. By Sunday night, Chip couldn’t help asking: Do you know
anyone else who watches this every night for four hours?
I thought everyone did.
My parents watched all the Olympics of my childhood, the men I’ve
lived with watched with me, now I watch alone except to call Chip to
say “turn to NBC, you HAVE to see this!” He, of course, is watching
political discussions on Fox. I’m just glad most of my favorite
drama series are on hiatus for the summer; sometimes, though, I take
a break to watch “Dallas” and “MI-5.”
Television is one
reason I don’t aspire to excellence myself; novels are another. In
their book “A
Passion for Excellence,” Peters and Austin note that it isn’t
possible to “have it all — a full and satisfying personal life and a
full and satisfying, hardworking professional one.” This was written
about the challenge between home and normal work; the challenge to
become the best in athletic competition, or risk one’s life in the
service of one’s country, takes away even more from personal “fun”
I never wanted to “go
for the gold.” I’ve been happy just collecting pretty-colored rocks
to pile in my garden. In high school, I studied as little as
possible to fit in a variety of sports with my friends, while still
leaving time for reading mystery novels; in college, I took
relatively easy courses so I could participate in extracurricular
activities with my friends.
My “career” as a
taxpayer activist was demanding and time-consuming, but I wasn’t
reaching for excellence, just doing my job. I guess that’s what most
of us do, and it’s enough.
This month, I was glad
of a chance to appreciate the military excellence that makes my
happy life possible, and the athletic excellence that makes me