Admiring excellence on display
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 9, 2012

“The 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 ago.




The Marine Corps parade honor guard.
Chip Ford/Courtesy photos


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.





A Humvee 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.




A Marine 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” time.

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 cheer.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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