Dr. Larry Tentinger didn't have to look at his notes as he began his address to the crowd that gathered for Thursday's Veterans Day program at the W.H. Over Museum in Vermillion.
He knows them by heart.
"I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense."
These are words of Article 1 of the Military Code of Conduct.
"During the height of the draft in the Vietnam War, I found myself committing these words to memory during my first week of basic training in the Army. At that time, all of us were told that we were required to memorize these words in the event that we were captured or tortured during hostile operations," he said.
A full understanding of the meaning of the code, he said, came to him while he was serving as a combat medic in Vietnam.
"I realized the significance of the Code of Conduct, and more importantly, what this code is built upon," he said.
Tentinger said that as he memorized those words shortly after joining the military, he thought of two of his high school friends whose funerals he had attending after they lost their lives while fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
"How could a friend of mine be afraid to ask a girl out for a date one year, and then fight and die for his country the next?" he said. "The perspective and vantage point from which I now answer this question is based on firsthand experience."
Tentinger's service to country didn't end with the Vietnam War. He has also served as a a medical corpsman in a U.S. Navy fleet hospital during Desert Storm, and completed three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a field corpsman in infantry battalions with the U.S. Marine Corps.
"I now know what allows the members of our armed forces to go in harm's way and do what is right in order to protect our freedoms that we cherish, the freedoms which are not free, the freedoms which bring us together here today," he said. "That answer is core values."
These values, which serve as the underlying foundation for every person who has or is currently serving in the military, Tentinger said, are honor, courage and commitment.
"These core values are committed to memory by all Navy and Marine Corps service members in uniform today," he said. "The Army expands upon these by adding the values of loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, respect, personal courage and selfless courage."
Similar values are adopted and highly stressed as a way of life among members of other branches of the military.
"By living out these values on a daily basis, a legacy has been handed down through the generations in our country that form a brick and mortar which binds us together here today," Tentinger said. "Together as fellow veterans, together as a community, and together as a nation.
"The core values allow us stay the course when things get rough. Values are part of what we really are deep down inside," he said. "These values are not just what we now, but what we feel and believe."
In his civilian life, Tentinger is employed as an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota.
"Long ago, I stopped just teaching content in my classes," he said. "I deal with values, and never force my values on anyone, but no one ever leaves a class I teach or a presentation I give without examining their own values. Values influence attitude, and attitude influences behavior."
As an example, he noted that most people probably would say they value their health. But without keeping that value in mind, it's easy for some people to forget that their attitudes toward protecting their health may not always keep with those values.
"Then the final question is, 'does my behavior actually reflect that?' All too often, that's not the case, and the result is an unlikely health-style and difficulty in making changes," Tentinger said. "When values are real and true, it's much easier to resist tempatation for that extra donut.
"When the values of honor, courage and commitment are real and solid, it allows us to move forward under fire and to do, above all, what is right," he said.
Everyone attending Thursday's Veteran Day program, Tentinger said, have been instilled with values from an early age, from their parents, their teachers and their church leaders.
"The military also hands down values through pride, training and discipline," he said. "The military calls attention to the past, and brings out a sense of pride by directing this heritage to the future. These concepts, combined with the living out of teamwork, create a framework that allows us to succeed."
The Nov. 11 program featured USD ROTC cadets, who posted the colors, special music and readings, the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, lead by the third grade class of St. Agnes Elementary, and comments by World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor Darrell Christopherson, who spoke about the large American flag he received that one time flew over the USS Arizona Memorial.
The solemn gathering ended with a rifle salute by the Color Guard of American Legion Post 1, Vermillion, and the playing of "Taps."
"We all can leave here today, building a new tomorrow," Tentinger said. "We live in a time when war is generational, when it's going to go on. But we as a nation, together, can stand united."