Mr. Skinner Addresses the Milton Community on Veterans Day
by Chris Mathews on Friday, November 18th, 2016
Last week, the Milton Academy community came together to honor American veterans who serve, have served, or have given their lives for our country. Veterans Day was on Friday, November 11th, and Milton commemorated the holiday in two parts. First, on Wednesday, Mr. Skinner, the Director of College Counseling, gave a speech about his uncle and namesake, posthumous Medal of Honor recipient Sherrod E. Skinner Jr. Then, on Friday, the School held its annual flagpole ceremony at 11:00 a.m. in respect of those who have served or currently serve.
In the wake of a presidential election that left many students and faculty upset and angry, Mr. Skinner used his speech to guide the community towards a heightened sense of understanding, direction, and hope for the future.
Mr. Skinner’s speech began with an abbreviated history of Veterans Day. He detailed how “Armistice Day” began as a way to honor the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 and was later designated as a national holiday that honored all of America’s veterans in 1938 and 1954, respectively. He then mentioned how his “uncle was one of those vets honored on the first newly-named Veterans Day.” Mr. Skinner then spoke about the events leading up to the actions that won second lieutenant Sherrod Skinner Jr. the Medal of Honor, but cost him his life.
Mr. Skinner opened this section of his speech by explaining how his uncle graduated from the Marine Corps Reserve Platoon Leader program at Harvard in October in 1951, finished Battery Officer School in July of 1952, and deployed to the front lines in Korea later that year. He then detailed his uncle’s role as a forward artillery observer on the “main line of resistance,” setting the stage for what many in the audience found to be an incredibly powerful and moving moment. In a voice trembling with emotion, Mr. Skinner read his uncle’s official Medal of Honor citation, an abbreviated version of which can be seen below:
“When his observation post in an extremely critical and vital sector of the main line of resistance was subjected to a sudden and fanatical attack by hostile forces, supported by a devastating barrage of artillery and mortar fire… Second Lieutenant Skinner, in a determined effort to hold his position, immediately organized and directed the surviving personnel in the defense of the outpost.
“Undaunted by the intense hostile barrage and the rapidly closing attackers, he twice left the protection of his bunker in order to direct accurate machine-gun fire and to replenish the depleted supply of ammunition and grenades.
“Although painfully wounded on each occasion… he gallantly directed the final defense until the meager supply of ammunition was exhausted and the position overrun… Realizing that there was no chance for other than passive resistance, he directed his men to feign death even though the hostile troops entered the bunker and searched their persons.
“Later, when an enemy grenade was thrown between him and two other survivors, he immediately threw himself on the deadly missile in an effort to protect the others, absorbing the full force of the explosion and sacrificing his life for his comrades.”
Mr. Skinner then gave a brief history of his uncle’s award for his actions that day and explained the deep connection he feels to the man whose name, looks, and voice he inherited. He offered the audience an insight into the parallelism between his life and his uncle’s life — both attended Milton, Harvard, and sung tenor for Krokodiloes — and used this symmetry to move towards a discussion of some of the broader lessons he hoped the Milton community might take with them in the context of his uncle’s heroism, his uncle’s sacrifice, war, and Veterans Day as a whole.
Ultimately, Mr. Skinner preached the importance of emotion, empathy, and a willingness to fight for what one believes in. In the “dire and unforgiving moment,” Second Lieutenant Skinner fought fate for as long as he could because he evidently felt that the lives of his comrades were worth sacrificing his own for; and especially in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Skinner wants to emphasize this fact.
Mr. Skinner wants us to empathize with the humanity behind even those with whom we might disagree with profoundly. As Mr. Skinner said at the conclusion of his speech, “‘First, seek to understand’ should be our guiding principle. This will not be easy… but it is essential. Empathy can feel like the hardest thing to muster at an emotionally charged time like this, but we do not need to look far in Milton’s history to find examples of the deepest, most enduring kind of empathy and civility, the kind born of forgiveness and healing.”
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