Valor Speech

The following is a copy of a speech CDR Shipley gave at a Navy Ball in 2010 to an audience of mostly US Navy midshipmen and enlisted personnel:

[Short intro]…

…After being invited to speak on valor, I first thought about how to define it. As I do for most significant words, I referred to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which defines it as:

“Strength of mind in regard to danger; that quality which enables a man to encounter danger with firmness; personal bravery; courage; intrepidity; prowess.”

Webster’s definition confirmed my belief that valor is a state of mind, before it ever becomes an action or a deed, because as a man thinks in his heart so is he. Or put another way, your thoughts precede your actions, so if you want to change the way you conduct yourself you first need to change the way you think.

As the executive officer of SEAL Team Three in the summer of 2006 I was both fortunate and unfortunate to be an eyewitness, so to speak, to phenomenal acts of valor in the Al Anbar of Iraq. At that time we had three Task Units, which we now call Troops, located in Fallujah, Habanea, and Ramadi. Each Troop is composed of two platoons of 16 SEALs each, a headquarters element, and support personnel.

Back then, downtown Ramadi was an insurgent stronghold where you did not drive through the streets without getting contacted and gunmen frequently shot at and sometimes killed American personnel in bunkered positions surrounding the government building. Of all the places in Iraq, Ramadi was one of the most violent.

It was within this context both acts of valor unfolded, the first happened during a firefight between a combined Marine and SEAL element and insurgents who were firing from the stadium down the surrounding streets, which radiated out from the stadium like spokes on a hub. While crossing a street, one of the Marines was shot in the leg and fell down on the opposite side of where everyone else had moved. A young SEAL Lieutenant, named Seth, saw what had happened and grabbed one of his men to assist him in going back to pull the Marine out of harm’s way. Bullets were wising by and ricocheting off the pavement in front of them, Seth took a deep breath, counted to three, then ran out into the street with the other SEAL. As they grabbed the Marine and began to drag him to safety, the other SEAL had a round go through his backpack from the side, which narrowly missed him.

I spoke to Seth about the events of that day at the end of our deployment when we were both waiting to depart the country. He explained to me how he had taken the deep breath, counted to three, and then gave the order to go. Never once did he describe a thought process of not going, apparently it was not an option for him.

Seth is unique in one other way, while at the US Naval Academy during his SEAL interview, the SEAL officer asked him if he only had one SEAL billet to give, who should he give it to, Seth or Seth’s friend. Seth told him he would rather his friend receive the billet, and that is exactly what happened. Seth went to the fleet as a Surface Warfare Officer [SWO] where he later lateral transferred into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school after qualifying on his ship as a SWO. The irony of his situation is that, had he not been so altruistic, he would never have been in that Task Unit, in Ramadi on that day for which he later received a Silver Star.


The second act of valor I witnessed from my XO chair ended more tragically. It involved a young enlisted SEAL on his first platoon in the same Task Unit as Seth. We were wrapping up combat operations and getting ready to turn the Area of Operations over to SEAL Team FIVE when the Commanding Officer approved one last mission. This operation consisted of a sniper overwatch, where at this location three SEALs were on a rooftop observing a section of Ramadi. The two SEALs on either side were on guns looking over a parapet wall which surrounded the rooftop. The third SEAL, named Michael, was sitting between them with a spotter scope, spotting for his teammates. Of the three SEALs, only Michael had an immediate exit from their confined rooftop position.

An insurgent hugged the wall below their position and tossed a hand grenade up. The grenade came over the parapet wall, bounced off the front of Michael’s body armor carrier, and landed on the rooftop in front of him. Michael yelled, “Grenade” as he dove and trapped it between his left arm and chest. It exploded causing minor shrapnel wounds to the legs of the other two SEALs. The Task Unit Commander came running up from downstairs and took Michael in his arms where he died a short time later.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.


Petty Officer Michael Monsoor was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Some of you might be familiar with this story from being featured during the 2008 Republican National Convention in which fellow SEALs took the gold tridents off their uniforms and pounded them into the top of Michael’s casket as they paraded by at Rosecrans Cemetery, Point Loma, California.


Both of these individuals could have acted to preserve their own lives, but they instead instinctively risked their lives to save others. Some of you in this room may one day be faced with a similar situation, but what you do will be a result of how you think about others in relation to yourself. Are you living your life for yourself or are you living it for a higher purpose?

I will leave you with one last example, a situation I can nearly guarantee each of you will face in some form during your naval career. This example took place during the 1846 Mexican War. In April of 1847, President Polk selected Nicholas P. Trist, chief clerk of the State Department, as a commissioner to negotiate a treaty whenever the Mexicans showed a willingness to talk.

Trist made contact with Santa Anna, military leader of Mexico, who intimated that “the use of money would facilitate the opening of negotiations; specifically, that Santa Anna would consent to treat for peace if he could have $10,000 at once and a promise of $1,000,000 upon ratification of a treaty with Mexico.”[1] Trist informed General Winfield Scott who, after conferring with his officers, made the initial $10,000 payment. “After receiving the money, Santa Anna pleaded the unwillingness of Congress as a bar to negotiations. Scott then had no alternative but to advance upon [Mexico City].”[2]

“News of the breakdown of Trist’s negotiations and the termination of the armistice reached Washington early in October”[3] 1847. Polk decided to recall Trist and instruct Scott to occupy Mexico City and additional territory as rapidly as reinforcements made it practicable, and to await peace proposals from Mexico.

However, Trist did not receive the letter until November 16th, and in the same mail came a later note reiterating the order to return and rebuking him for alleged disregard of his instructions.  “In the meantime Trist had opened communications with the new Mexican government at Queretaro and had been informed that the government was anxious for peace and was about to appoint commissioners to treat with him. Trist’s first act upon receiving his recall was to send to Queretaro an informal notice of the situation and to invite the Mexican government to give him peace proposals to take to Washington. The Mexican authorities, however, urged Trist to remain and negotiate despite his recall, and similar advice was given by General Scott and by Edward Thornton of the British legation, who played a useful role in bringing the parties together. For several weeks Trist hesitated, but on December 3rd he informed the Mexican commissioners that he would withdraw his notice of recall and would proceed to negotiate if assured that Mexico would accept the minimum territorial demand of the United States.

The reasons for this unprecedented act of insubordination on Trist’s part are clear and to his credit. He knew, much better than Polk or Secretary of State Buchanan, the political situation in Mexico and the nature of the people with whom he had to deal. He knew that neither the existing Mexican government nor any other could ever send a commission to Washington to sue for peace without committing political suicide. He also knew that the faction at that moment in power, the Moderado or Moderate party, was the only group in Mexico with which there was any hope of making a reasonable treaty.”[4]

“Trist was convinced that the choice lay between a peace made at once with the Moderates on the basis of his original instructions, or a protracted military occupation of Mexico, complicated by guerrilla warfare and possibly ending in annexation of the whole country. The latter course he believed would be a major calamity for the United States; and he therefore resolved to disregard his recall and attempt to make a treaty, though he must have realized that a treaty made under these circumstances might be rejected in Washington and that in any case he was terminating his own official career.”[5]

He signed the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848 which embodied the minimum territorial demands and the minimum monetary compensation proposed in Trist’s instructions of April 15, 1847. Upon his return to Washington after the ratification of the treaty, Trist found himself without a job. Polk even denied him his salary and expenses after November 16, 1847, the date on which he received his letter of recall. Not until more than twenty years later did a more friendly administration award compensation for his services and expenses in the negotiation of the treaty.

Trist did not face death, but he willingly sacrificed his job to look out for the better interests of his nation and the service members who would have lost their lives in a protracted campaign with Mexico. It is in this regard you will most certainly face the dilemma of “do I do what is good for my career or do I do what is good from my nation, the mission, or my personnel?” I am not advocating disobeying lawful orders, yet if you ever find yourself in a position where the better interests of your career are in conflict with the better interests of your nation, I hope you too act with valor and the appropriate decorum.

[1] Julius W. Pratt, A History of United States Foreign Policy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1955), 255.

[2] Pratt, 255.

[3] Pratt, 256.

[4] Pratt, 259.

[5] Pratt, 259-60.


3 thoughts on “Valor Speech

  1. Reblogged this on scubahustler and commented:
    I’m very thankful for the service, and Patriotism of CDR Shipley. Always glad to hear him speak, and thankful for his spirit to serve. Praying for success in your new calling Commander. I also continue to pray for the peace of your family since the passing of Mr. Harry Shipley he really cared for his community as you do. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s