Earn This!

Author: Gregg F. Martin, PhD, Major General, US Army (Retired)

Written in honor of the service and sacrifice of the US Military for Memorial Day, 2022


In the epic World War Two film “Saving Private Ryan”, Army Captain and Ranger John Miller (Tom Hanks) lies dying on the battlefield from gunshot wounds, as Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) looks on in horror and grief. Miller pulls Ryan close and exhorts him with his dying breaths to “Earn this! Earn it!”


What did Captain Miller mean by saying “Earn this!”?


He meant that multiple lives were sacrificed in the effort to find Private Ryan on the deadly battlefield and to bring him home to his family, that had already lost their other sons in the war. He meant that Private Ryan needs to honor his fallen comrades with a life well lived and of service to others, that gives meaning and honor to the sacrifice his fellow soldiers made to save him. He needs to “earn” their sacrifice by being a man of virtue, who treats others well, and knows joy and purpose in his life, something none of the fallen would be able to do because their promising young lives were cut short.


Decades later, Ryan, along with his wife, children and grandchildren,  visits Miller’s grave in the US cemetery in Normandy, France. As he honors Miller and the sacrifices his soldiers made to save him and bring him home alive, he is moved as he recalls Miller’s dying words to him. He tells Miller: “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” His wife walks over to the grave and says, “Captain John H. Miller.” Ryan answers, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” His wife replies “You are.” Ryan lingers at the grave with reverence and awe, then salutes Captain Miller and his sacrifice, which embodies what Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” (John 15:13). We could modify this by saying to live selflessly in service to others.

See and hear the Private Ryan—Captain Miller dialog at this link:



So the best way we can honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, those who gave their last full measure, is to live a good life, being people of virtue, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus said in the Great Commandment.


A truly good and purposeful way to love and help others is by engaging with, supporting, and being an active part of a cause or organization that serves others and is greater than ourselves.

I am personally blessed to have found such a purpose and cause.


After decades of successful Army service, I was struck with bipolar disorder during the Iraq War in 2003. The intense stress of leading thousands of soldiers in combat triggered my genetic predisposition for bipolar. Although it boosted my performance initially, over the next decade it led to higher highs and lower lows – all unknown, unrecognized and undiagnosed – ultimately rocketing into full-blown mania followed by hopeless, debilitating depression, and terrifying psychosis. I was fired from my 2-star command of the National Defense University, ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, and compelled to retire. I believe that my boss, General Martin Dempsey, made the right decision – for myself, my family, and the organization – and I support what he did. For the next two years I was in a fight for my life, crippled with passive suicidal ideations of my own gruesome, violent and bloody death, and wanting to die. After two years of medical treatment, the love and support of my wife, family and friends, God’s grace, and the natural element Lithium, I pulled myself out of the pit of bipolar hell


Since then, I have rebuilt my previously bipolar-shattered life, and discovered my new life mission; “Sharing my bipolar story to help stop the stigma and save lives.” I speak widely, write, and confer on this topic. The response has been totally positive and encouraging. The more I speak, write and confer, the more people want me to.


I am blessed to partner with the IBPF (International Bipolar Foundation), and its community of committed people, as well as other non-profits, businesses and individuals. These organizations and people are “force multipliers”, who magnify the power and reach of my story and mission. Working together, we do much good for many people who are in need of support and recovery from their bipolar disorder as well as other mental/brain conditions.


So on this Memorial Day, as we honor all our fallen heroes from throughout our Nation’s history, let’s seek a purpose that serves others and is greater than self. And figure out how to partner with like-minded organizations and people.

I am grateful and proud to be a 36-year Army combat veteran who served with comrades who gave their lives for our Nation; and to be an active partner and teammate with IBPF, other great non-profits, businesses and individuals, who so actively and intelligently serve our fellow human beings in America and around the globe. I’ve discovered my purpose/mission/cause and am striving to “earn this!” by working hand in hand with IBPF to “help stop the stigma and save lives.”


I challenge each of us to find our Purpose and carry out ways to virtuously “Earn” the sacrifice of our fallen heroes.


Thank you, and may God bless the USA and IBPF.


-Gregg F. Martin, PhD, Major General, US Army (Retired)


Gregg F. Martin, PhD, is a 36-year Army combat veteran, retired two-star general, and bipolar survivor, thriver and warrior. The former President of the National Defense University, he is a qualified Airborne-Ranger-Engineer and Strategist, who has commanded soldiers in combat. A graduate of West Point, MIT, and both the Army and Naval War Colleges, he is an ardent and full-time mental health advocate. He lives with his wife in Cocoa Beach Florida, where he writes, speaks and confers. His forthcoming book is entitled: “Bipolar General: my ‘forever war’ with mental illness.”

Visit www.generalgreggmartin.com


These views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the DOD or US Government.

Translate »