3 SEALS and a rattlesnake: a story for Memorial Day

This year marks the eleventh anniversary of Operation Red Wings where U.S. Navy SEALS Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz, Matt Axelson, and Marcus Luttrell were inserted deep behind enemy lines on a reconnaissance mission. You all know the story of Lone Survivor (if you don’t, you’re probably not an American) when the rescue column aboard a Special Operations CH-47D aircraft was shot down because it had no attack helicopter support. It was the worst day in Naval Special Warfare operations. I remember it well, as I was in Afghanistan in 2005.

Last year I was honored to attend the Danny Dietz Memorial Roping and BBQ and met the true women of Sparta — Patsy and Donna, wives of Dietz and Axelson — and several others who truly represent the strength behind the men of the Trident.

I was also honored to bid on and take home a very special one-of-a-kind piece of art symbolizing the Gadsden Flag motto of “Don’t Tread on Me.” It is now proudly displayed in the den of our home here in Dallas and it is amazing.


Even more special is that three .50 cal sniper rifle and .45 cal shell casings used in the artwork are from rounds fired by Danny Dietz. And on the back are messages to me from each of the Spartan women who lost their warrior in service to our nation — they gave the “last full measure of devotion.” The Navy SEAL Foundation coin is affixed and there is the summary of this full quote from Benjamin Franklin, December 1775, which explains why the symbol of the rattlesnake so perfectly explains the spirit of our nation, and honors all the fallen:

“…it occurred to me that the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America, and may therefore have been chosen, on that account, to represent her.

But then “the worldly properties” of a Snake I judged would be hard to point out. This rather raised than suppressed my curiosity, and having frequently seen the Rattle-Snake, I ran over in my mind every property by which she was distinguished, not only from other animals, but from those of the same genus or class of animals, endeavoring to fix some meaning to each, not wholly inconsistent with common sense.

I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.

Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America? The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food, and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies. This may be understood to intimate that those things which are destructive to our enemies, may be to us not only harmless, but absolutely necessary to our existence. I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, ’till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers…’Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.”

So now you know the story behind the rattlesnake chosen as the symbol for the Gadsden flag.

Now more than ever, we need men and women who will lead and embody the qualities of the two symbols of our Republic — the fierce rattlesnake and the powerful bald eagle.

Today on Memorial Day we honor the memory of Dietz, Axelson, Murphy, and so many other brave men and women who since the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord, have and will continue to answer the call, simply responding “Don’t Tread on Me.” 

The “Me” in that motto is this Republic, America, the land of the free, because we are the home of the brave.

There are three types of people — sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs — choose which one you shall be on the day we remember the fallen sheep dogs who stood guard against the wolves.


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