Unheralded giving like his shows the character of a man.
The story is told by Gen. Charles Krulak (Ret.), who was then Marine Corps Commandant.
He remembers Christmas Day 1998 when Mattis, a Brigadier General, quietly stood duty for a young Marine officer so the young man could spend the day with his family.
Every year, Gen. Krulak and his wife baked countless cookies in the days ahead of Christmas, put them in little packages and, beginning at 0400 on Christmas Day, he would deliver cookies to all the Marine duty posts around Washington.
Making his final delivery of the day, Gen. Krulak asked the Marine Lance Corporal on duty who the officer of the day was.
The answer: “Sir, it’s Brigadier General Mattis.”
Normally, of course, the officer of the day would’ve been a junior officer, not a general officer.
According to Krulak, he replied to the Corporal, “No, I know who Gen. Mattis is. I mean, who’s the officer of the day?”
The young Marine gave the same response: “Sir, General Mattis.”
“I looked around the duty hut. In the back there were two cots: One for the officer of the day and one for the enlisted Marine. I said, ‘OK, who was the officer who slept on that cot last night?’”
“The Corporal said again, ‘Sir, General Mattis.’”
No sooner had the question been answered a third time than BG Mattis entered the room.
Krulak recalls, “So I said to him, ‘Jim, what are you standing the duty for?’ And he said, ‘Sir, I looked at the duty roster for today and there was a young major who had it, who is married with a family. I’m a bachelor and I thought, “Why should the major miss out on the fun of having Christmas with his family?” And so I took the duty for him.’”
–NAUS.org (National Assoc. for Uniformed Services)
The other story is closer to home and involves my late brother, Steve Lipson, and his wife, Mindy.
Both did what the General did.
Steve, a member of several volunteer groups, always asked to perform the necessary tasks, such as delivering food to the poor, on Christmas.
His wife, Mindy, a nurse practitioner for many years at St. Jude’s in Memphis, always signed up to work that day.
Both are Jewish and knew their Christian colleagues wanted to spend the day with their families. So, they gave the gift of their own time, away from their own family. They knew the day meant far more to their friends.
We often talk about “religious tolerance” and it is right that we do. It is a hard-won triumph in Western history, worth underscoring.
Even its minimal definition, forbearance, is a good thing.
We need far more of it in a world where zealots behead infidels in the name of their religion.
We need to reiterate those values in our schools and public life.
Even better is a generous definition, one in which religious tolerance means “genuine respect for others beliefs and for the lives they lead in following them.”
That generous definition is revealed not only in what we say but in what we do–most of all in how we treat our friends and neighbors everyday.