Guest Essay by Norvell ’66, P’99, P’02 – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Guest Essay by Norvell ’66, P’99, P’02

A guest essay by John Norvell ’66, P’99, P’02 appeared in a recent issue of the Finger Lakes Times. Norvell is currently helping to teach a course on Gettysburg at the Colleges and notes this has caused him to “think a lot about the citizen soldier.” “All who serve our nation are patriots, including the many young men and women on the front lines today in Afghanistan and Iraq. All speak to the great tradition of the citizen soldier in America,” he says. In his essay, Norvell discusses the origins and models of the citizen soldier, from Cincinnatus to George Washington, to the militias of the Revolutionary War and into present times. Norvell is a retired Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force and served as alumni director at HWS until 2002. While a student at Hobart, he was a Druid and member of the Canterbury Club and Echo and Pine. His article is available online and below. Finger Lakes TimesGUEST APPEARANCE: A citizen soldier and a good AmericanJohn E. Norvell • October 5, 2014 While helping teach a course on Gettysburg this fall at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, I have come to think a lot about the citizen soldier. Several generations of the Norvells in my family served our nation, many finding themselves in the front line. Their service was brought home even more when I recently visited my great-great-great grandfather Lt. Lipscomb Norvell’s grave in the City Cemetery in Nashville, Tenn. If ever there were a hero in a family of servicemen, it was Lipscomb. He served for seven years in the Revolutionary Army, was taken prisoner by the British in 1780, and survived to return home and help settle the American frontier. His epitaph says he was “A Christian Patriot.” All who serve our nation are patriots, including the many young men and women on the front lines today in Afghanistan and Iraq. All speak to the great tradition of the citizen soldier in America. Many see in George Washington, considered the modern Cincinnatus of his time, the model for citizen soldiers. Cincinnatus was a Roman general who took up arms in defense of Rome and then returned to his home to become a citizen of his community again. In the early United States this idea formed the basis of the militias that were called to arms during the Revolutionary War and the volunteer brigades called up in the Civil War. It was the main reason why the United States relied upon its citizens to do their duty, when needed, and continues to rely on them in today’s state National Guard units. All took up arms to serve our nation; some did not return. Sometimes the return was greeted with great thanks for their service as in World War II; sometimes, as in Vietnam, it was not. Yet that did not matter to these men, they served because it was their duty as citizens to give back a part of their lives and abilities to this country which had given them so much. This may seem to some like a very old-fashioned notion: That to those who are given much, it is expected that they will give back in return. It is not. It is the basis of how this country has worked and should work. And it is not limited to the military. It is the basis of the Peace Corps, community and church-related services, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and countless volunteer service groups, such as the ones that restored the City Cemetery in Nashville, and those who work for the greater good in the world. It is a very selfless idea in a world where selfishness is often the way of life. The men and woman who served, and continue to serve today, did not do it for parades or discounts at stores. They did it for something much bigger: a calling to serve that they heard. That is the bottom line, it is something that draws a man out of himself to be a bigger person, to do his duty, to fill the breach, and in the end to return to his home to again give back to others there as if nothing had happened. Indeed, that is the very definition of a citizen soldier … and also a good American. John E. Norvell is a 1966 Hobart graduate, retired Air Force Lt. Col, and former assistant professor of history at the Air Force Academy. He has written for the Washington Post and several newspapers and historical journals around the nation. He lives in Canandaigua.