Sembower, who is attached to West Point, made the trip to Cleveland from Somerset County, Pa., where he is a resident. “I came South for the food,” he quipped as be began his talk on “Absolutely American.”
Somerset County is where the fatal crash of Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, occurred. The Pennsylvania pasture field just outside the tiny town of Shanksville, Pa., is now a national memorial, and Sembower said tributes to the plane’s passengers continue. Just last year four caskets were placed where the airplane hit the ground ... upside down.
“You didn’t hear much about that because it [the casket burial] wasn’t covered by the media,” Sembower continued. “You can’t go to that location, but you can see a rock that is placed there.”
“Our County (Somerset County) is now called “America’s County,” Sembower said with pride.
The general was preparing to go overseas on that fateful day. He said his neighbor was the coroner and asked if there was some place to put the bodies from the crash. Sembower was commander at the local armory, and that facility was used.
“That’s where I hail from,” he said, as he briefly discussed his community and Pittsburgh Steelers football. “That’s the real ‘America’s Team,’’’ he said.
The general said he can help for those interested in West Point information, but he wanted to talk about military leadership.
He said those in the military are a “Band of Brothers” and it has its heroes. “A hero does what he can, with courage in the heart of man. We strike with what is in our heart,” he added. “That’s absolutely American.”
Sembower said the nation also has heroes in basic training. “That first day is like no other,” he said. “We get over it, because tomorrow has to be better.”
The retired general said he has his personal heroes, naming a number of sports “heroes,” Western heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and even the first responders on 9/11. “We now have our military heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan,” he continued.
Sembower then provided a video narrated by Oliver North. The video from Iraq showed a soldier bringing wounded comrades from a firefight back to a U.S. personnel carrier. A media team was filming the action and called out to the soldier. “Hey mate, why did you do that?,” when it was shown that one of the wounded soldiers was an Iraqi.
The U.S. soldier was shown making a hand gesture to the film crew as he said, “Hey mate, didn’t you notice he was wounded!”
“Now, that is absolutely American,” said Sembower, adding, that “leadership is not absolute control, it’s getting the job done.”
“There’ll never be enough people, resources, time and information,” Sembower said of war. “You make your decisions and you drive on. War is an ugly thing, but it is not the ugliest of things.”
Sembower, who has visited a number of battlefields around the globe, said being a hero is much like the West Point creed of Duty, Honor and Country. “There is no place for second place, or the first loser, in the trophy case,” he said.
When things get difficult, he emphasized, a hero will look for one more thing to do, and one more, and one more. “The goal is to do more for the whole,” he said. “You never give in — never, never, never.”
“As Americans our free and democratic way of life is the envy of other nations,” the retired general said in closing. “That’s absolutely American.”
He also said, “Always strike hard and seize the high ground.”
Sembower gave Rotary President Kim Casteel and the club one of his commander’s coins to remember his visit.
- An Interact group of students from Cleveland High School attended the luncheon.
- Final numbers have not been determined for the Rotary auction, but it is believed the turnout was twice what it was the previous year.
- Membership chairman Matt Brown challenged all Rotarians who were brought into the club by the late Max Carroll to get involved in the drive.
- Cameron Fisher gave a brief talk on why he is involved in Rotary. He mentioned a number of themes, including “Look Beyond Yourself,” “Show Rotary Cares,” and “Create Awareness and Take Action.”
He said the club has given him leadership opportunities, community connections and a firm foundation for friendships. He added that the club is more than luncheons on Tuesday, and more than what is listed in the book.