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Nobody Asked Me But…I Don't Run from Bugles

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

I am aware that the national ensign is merely a piece of colored cloth. But I am also aware that it is more than that, a symbol of the freedoms we Americans enjoy and treasure. And it takes on extra significance for sailors, because part of the military job description is a willingness to make great sacrifices; it is that mere piece of cloth that is placed on the coffins of fallen warriors.

Because this is a nation of freedom, its citizens are free to ignore the colors ceremony. And they are free to think what they please during it. But as a sailor who was privileged to serve and simultaneously see much of the world, I have an appreciation of just how special this nation is. I have seen the dark side of the world and take little for granted. So it is that I stand my ground when First Call is sounded and use this isolated moment to think about what this Navy and this nation are all about, to think about what it is that makes the United States the greatest experiment in history, never perfect but continually striving to be so.

Whether a sailor's job is hoisting bombs to the belly of an aircraft or putting words on paper, conning a submarine into the abyss or inspecting it for safety, piloting an aircraft or repairing it, there is no exaggeration in saying that we are a big part of what keeps this nation safe. This is something to be proud of and, while no nation is served well by jingoists or blind patriots, it is not a bad thing to feel a burst of pride at the sight of our nation's flag bursting forth on a morning breeze.

And just as morning colors often cause a great surge of pride as the flag makes its dramatic appearance, so evening colors is a time for quiet reflection. As I stand respectful in the twilight, watching the national ensign slowly descend the staff to the haunting notes of a bugle playing "Retreat," I feel a special bond with this great nation and appreciate the sacrifices that have been made in its defense. It is one of those moments that people in other walks of life can't really share, a moment that takes me out of the routine of daily life, a moment that reminds me of what is truly important and makes me realize the great privilege I have been given by an accident of birth to be an American.

I do not run from bugles.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the senior book acquisitions editor for the Naval Institute Press.


Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More
Videotape Interview
10:00am, “Veterans Oral Histories Series,” American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington,... Read More


Conferences and Events

2016 Naval History Conference

Thu, 2016-09-08 - Fri, 2016-09-09

Join us for the 2016 Naval History Conference on 8 and 9 September at Alumni Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy. The Athena...

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

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From the Press

Guest Speaker & Book Signing

Wed, 2016-07-27

Guest Speaker & Book Signing

Thu, 2016-07-28

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