Did you ever wonder what it really means to be courageous? This weekend, we saw the movie The King’s Speech with Colin Firth. I won’t go on about the movie, but suffice it to say that it was very good. The movie was based on the real life of Prince Albert who later became King George VI and was the King of England from 1936 until his death in 1952.
What makes this drama unique is that King George VI had a very severe speech impediment: he stammered and stuttered to the point that he could barely speak. You might be asking, “how does this compare to the courage of a soldier on the battlefield?” The answer is this: during the dark days of 1939, England was on the brink of war with Germany. The outcome of which no one knew the answer. The King, along with Prime Minister Churchill, were symbols of England and if they faltered, the people would lose faith and confidence. The King had to be seen as a strong and courageous leader to the people. This meant speaking in public – something the King had a mortal fear of doing; however, he had no choice if he was to demonstrate confidence and strength to the British citizenry.
It was also at this time that Sir Laurence Olivier produced an adaptation of Henry V for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Olivier took Shakespeare’s play and used it as a tool to motivate and encourage his country. For Britain, 1939 – 1945 were years of struggle, not to win, but to survive as a nation: a struggle that her citizens faced with uncommon strength and courage during some of England’s darkest hours. Why is this important? What does this have to do with King George VI, “Courage,” and Laurence Olivier’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V?
Olivier’s adaptation, produced in 1944, is a reflection of the time. Olivier takes the fears and uncertainties felt by a nation and transforms those fears and uncertainties into positive emotions of pride and determination that raise war-torn morale. He reminds the Britons of the indomitable spirit of England’s countrymen and women; thus, they draw a common strength and courage from each other.
In the movie Henry V, King Henry gives a speech at dawn just before the battle. Henry’s text at the beginning of the soliloquy demonstrates that he is well aware that the burden of the kingdom rests upon him when he states, “Upon the King! Let us our lives, our souls, / Our debts, our careful wives, / Our children, and our sins lay on the King!” (4.1.230-232). This is same weight of responsibility that King George VI felt in 1939. The setting of the speech in the film adaptation is juxtaposed with sunrise and this was meant to give England hope and courage that maybe, just maybe, they had passed the worst in the night and a new dawn would bring an end to their fear. King George VI must have felt this weight and responsibility every time he faced his greatest fear: public speaking. Our wounded service members face the same fear and uncertainty in their lives that King George VI and England felt in 1939: fear of the unknown and wondering what the future holds.
What I see at Walter Reed each time I go is courage. Not courage on the battlefield, but courage forged in facing a different enemy. Facing oneself, looking into one’s soul, and pressing on toward an unknown future with a determination to heal and get back to living. I also see a bond between these wounded service members that is just incredible. Their camaraderie and encouragement for each other is humbling, and just like Olivier in his film adaptation of Henry V, these soldiers encourage each other and push each to not only survive the fight, but to heal and get better. These men and women don’t know what the future holds for them, but knowing that to get there, they will pass through a lot of pain and healing before reaching their goal. Seeing these wounded service men and women facing their pain and injuries day after day is amazing. Many of them have surgical procedures two and three times a week with just enough time in between to rest before facing the next hurdle. They come through with an attitude that humbles me and leaves me in awe.
As I watched these men and women, I marveled at their strength and courage. I truly wish the American people could see what these heroes go through in their journey to heal. It would change the definition of “hero.”
Note – For many of the more seriously wounded service members, they face twenty – thirty surgeries over their healing process.