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Military Traditions

February 4, 2021 By R.A. Jones

Swear to Defend

“UNG GRANDMA,” reads the cup our granddaughter gave to my wife, Helga. Yeah, I’d never heard of UNG either until our granddaughter graduated from there three years ago. I’ll remember it now. It stands for “University of North Georgia.” Think Blue Ridge Mountains. Picture the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. Imagine a blue-collar town of “Y’all” type folks. At Katie’s graduation, I saw only three other neckties.

Katie was about as much of a California girl as you could meet. She grew up in Pleasanton and graduated from high school there. She earned an associate degree from Las Positas Community College in Livermore. Then she pulled up stakes and, with no explanation I ever heard, decamped to live with her aunt and uncle at Cumming, north of Atlanta. Uncoached or motivated by any of us, she enrolled at the University of North Georgia. Two years later Helga and I went to see her graduate with a four-year degree.

The ceremony was in a large basketball court furnished with every last folding chair that could be crammed in. I watched the crowd of farmers, church folks, shopkeepers, clerks, drivers, railroaders, and the like file in. They reminded me of a long-ago place where I came of age.

The graduates in their gowns filed in. All stood for the national anthem. We pledged allegiance to the flag. Speeches began. Listeners were respectful. Then, up to the podium in full army regalia, came the colonel of the ROTC.

“Next, I will issue the oath of office which will swear in this year’s graduates as officers of the Army of United States. All to be commissioned – please stand.” Perhaps a dozen grads stood. They doffed their graduation robes and stood tall in their Army blues with their right hands raised.

“Repeat after me,” the Colonel said. I listened as they swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign or domestic.

And then, God bless them all, the entire audience applauded. Some had risen to their feet as well. Now I wish that I had stood with them, but I was too stunned.

Now I keep that UNG cup as a sanity check. It reminds me that the world in which my pals and I came of age still exists out there somewhere.

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