(by Michael C. Carlson, OpinionJournal.com) – “I Want to be remembered for the things I accomplished”.
(Editor’s note: Sgt. Carlson, of St. Paul, Minn., was killed on Jan. 24, 2005, when his Bradley fighting vehicle overturned in Mohammed Sacran, Iraq. He was 22. This is adapted from a “credo paper” he wrote in 12th grade, on May 11, 2000.)
I was born in Wisconsin. We lived in a town called Webster, on a road called Lavern Lane. Since then many things have changed, but many more remain the same. We no longer live in the country, we only go to church once or twice a year, and we no longer struggle to make ends meet. Today we live in the city, but we still have a JunkYard, my dad still works 16 hours a day, everyday. Today I am a man not a seven-year-old child. There are still cars everywhere. We own over 90. About 20 of them still run and 12 of those we store in the city. No we don’t have a parking lot. What we do is borrow our neighbors unused stalls for fixing their cars and doing other little things for them.
I admire my Father more than any other person on this planet, not for being a mechanic, not for being a tough guy. I admire my father for his ambition. For 30 years he has gone to work everyday, for 30 years he has come home, gone to the garage and worked 10 more hours. I don’t know how he does it but I do know why. He does it for us. He wants my brother and me to have everything we need and most of what we want. Lots of people say that the best way to learn is by the example of others. Well, then I have one of the best teachers there is on how to be a man, how to treat others, and the work ethic. I mean he is not perfect by any means but is anyone really perfect! I think that he is pretty close.
Sometimes I wonder if my dad ever thought of college. I wonder if he’s happy. I sometimes even feel sorry for him. What I mean by that is that I look at him and see a guy that has spent his entire life working. That is what he does. He works. If my mom never brought up the idea of a vacation he would never think twice. He would work to the day he died. I love hard work, but how do you go to the same dead end job everyday knowing that you will be doing it forever.
Every now and then someone that had my dad fix their car will stop by and need something, and every time I talk to them they start talking about my dad’s work. They compliment him on paint jobs he did 20 years ago that still look like they are brand new. That reminds me of another trait I have taken from my dad besides my hard work ethic. “If you are going to do a job, do it right the first time, because a job not done well is a job not worth doing,” so the saying goes. I take that personally. If someone has an honest complaint about my workmanship, I will bend over backwards to make it right. If people are going to pay you good money to do something then you had better do a darn good job. That is why I usually work alone, then, if there is a problem I know whom I can blame.
My dad hasn’t taught me everything though, a lot of it I have learned on my own too. I still got a lot to learn still, but I have figured out things like how to deal with people you don’t like or those that don’t like you. I also learned why when cutting a frozen bagel you cut away from yourself, I got the scar to prove it. My dad calls this type of learning “the school of hard knocks.” Some of the knocks are harder than others.
I love sports. I love football, wrestling, weight lifting, skiing and hockey. I love the thrill of competition, the roar of the crowds, the agony on the faces of your opponents as the final seconds tick off the clock. However, I don’t want to do it as a profession. I think it would be fun for a while then it would get boring. I guess the point that I am trying to make is that when I am on my deathbed what am I going to look back on? Will it be 30 years of playing a game that in reality means nothing, or will it be 30 years of fighting crime and protecting the country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
I want my life to account for something more than just a game. In life there are no winners, everyone eventually loses their life. I only have so much time; I can’t waste it with a game. I don’t want those close to me to look at me and tell me that I was good at a game. I want to be good at life; I want to be known as the best of the best at my job. I want people to need me, to count on me. I am never late; I am either on time or early. I want to help people. I want to fight for something, be part of something that is greater than myself. I want to be a soldier or something of that caliber, maybe a cop or a secret service agent.
I want to live forever; the only way that one could possibly achieve it in this day and age is to live on in those you have affected. I want to carve out a niche for myself in the history books. I want to be remembered for the things I accomplished. I sometimes dream of being a soldier in a war. In this war I am helping to liberate people from oppression. In the end there is a big parade and a monument built to immortalize us in stone. Other times I envision being a man you see out of the corner of your eye, dressed in black fatigues, entering a building full of terrorists. After everything is completed I slip out the back only to repeat this the next time l am called. I might not be remembered in that scenario, but I will have helped people.
I guess what I want most of all is to be a part of the real world, not an entertainer. I want to have an essential role in the big picture. I want adventure, challenge, danger, and most of all I don’t want to be behind a counter or desk. Maybe when I am a 100 years old I will slow down and relax. Till then, I have better things to do.
Reprinted here with permission from Opinion Journal. Visit the website at opinionjournal.com.
1. For what reason did Michael admire his father?
2. What did Michael’s father teach him?
3. What did Michael observe about how his father worked?
4. What did Michael say he figured out for himself?
5. Though Michael loved sports, he said he wouldn’t want to play a sport professionally. Why?
6. What did Michael want to be known for?
7. How does Michael’s credo contrast with everything you see on TV and in the movies today? Be specific.
8. What quality about Sgt. Michael C. Carlson most impressed you? Explain your answer. How has his credo inspired you?
To write a note of support to Michael’s family, go to legacy.com/StarTribune/Guestbook.asp?PersonID=3113263.