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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Does Warrior DNA Matter?

By David "Jager" Burnell  
I am second from the left (Hostage Rescue Training England 1988)
Are you a warrior? Do you have the spirit of protecting, defending and watching over others?

Do our ancestors play a part in our physical, and emotional warrior makeup? If you are the descendant of a great warrior king does that incline you more to the fight? Can you be happy behind a desk with warrior blood? Without a warrior pedigree can you begin the legacy of protecting and defending?

In my case I have ancestors with names like RAGNHILDIS, SOMERLED, OLAU, ANGUS, THURLOUGH and ETACH. I also have a very strong sense of warrior self.

My ancestors contain a mix of cultures with the predominant ones being Normans and Celts. The surname BURNELL comes from Normandy around the 10th century. This was at the time when William the conqueror was raiding many lands including what we now know as England. I have been to Normandy many times because of my heritage and, of course, the Normandy invasion of WWII. In Caen, the largest Viking castle still remains a flagship for that aggressive, Nordic culture. This place was the headquarters of King William and the staging area for his raids and conquests. Consequently, Norman blood would soon be mingled with the English as the Normans would conquer the island beginning in 1066 with the Battle of Hastings.

As I walked the land of Normandy it was a very comfortable feeling--a feeling of belonging. In a very spiritual way, I felt like this ancient land held some connection to me personally. Through family research, I would later find that our name was mingled with knights and those of “lesser ranks”. We would fight for a Royal Duke in exchange for lands. Noteworthy was the fact that the Burnell crest has a blue boarder signifying they went across the channel to England and were part of the Battle of Hastings and the eventual conquering of England. These people mixed with other tribes, forming the England we know today.

Glenco Scotland
My mother's side of the family holds the surname, MacDonald. Our family is from the Glencoe side where the feud between the Campbell’s was in full swing. I went there one cold winter day on a very fast pilgrimage. I got to see the hard and unforgiving land where my forefathers carved out a living and fought clan to clan. It impressed upon me the ability we all have to not only adapt to our circumstances, whatever they may be, but to flourish.

As I have bathed in the history of these people, both in research and visits, I was struck by their “fighting through” natures. Everyone is afraid in a fight, but these people placed their values and lands above the fear of death. Perhaps this is one reason the Romans could not effectively conquer the northern lands.

With my father
In 1880, my great-grandfather, at the age of 22 years old, moved to Tombstone, Arizona. He was active in politics in the days when a public figure had to be “quick on the draw”. He was a friend of Wyatt Earp and went into business with him on several mining ventures. He became very wealthy in his later years. He was active in the National Guard which is where he got his nickname, Captain Scofield. He is an influential character in our family and set the pace for three generations to follow.

His son and my grandfather became a horse soldier at the turn on the century and chased Poncho Villa on the boarder of Mexico under the command of General Pershing. Later Pershing would become the commander of American forces in Europe during WWI. Prior to WWI my grandfather would be injured while riding a motorcycle as a dispatch rider, preventing him from going to France.  He would visit us when I was a boy and always pay such devoted attention to me. One time he brought me a replica Calvary canteen and said, "This is like the one we used when I was in the Calvary.” I played with that canteen for years. He was and is still a legend to me.

His son and my Father would enlist in the National Guard during Korea and rise to the rank of Master Sergeant within 7 years. He would later join the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and graduate near my birthday in 1961. As a 24 year veteran of LAPD he was a plank owner of METRO--the elite, no bull division where SWAT would be formed. He was involved with SWAT, the riots of that period, VICE, narcotics, warrants, homicides, and many other key events and duties. One major highlight of his distinguished career was when he and his partner caught the number one bad guy. He was captured by my dad, a shotgun, and tenacity. For this action, he was awarded a bottle of champagne. Since we did not drink alcohol that bottle sat proudly on our bookshelf all growing up.

My dad during LAPD graduation inspection 1961
My dad has always exemplified the warrior. I had the incredible opportunity to take him back to the land of his forefathers in Normandy. Outside the Viking castle at Caen, I asked my dad, “What is it like for you to be standing next to a place that has your DNA tied to it?” He reflected and didn’t say much, but I could tell that the realization was taking shape of who he was at a whole new level. He was literally from a warrior culture. One so powerful it helped shape the continent we were now standing on.

In Caen Normandy, with my father (King William Viking Castle)
Together we visited WWII and WWI sites, and bathed in the rich and ancient history. He was touched by the beaches of Normandy, the Battle of Bastogne, and the concentration camp at Dachau. We shared ancient Berlin, East Germany, Poland and many other places, people, and events. I was able to watch my Warrior Father who had served under extreme stress for nearly three decades in uniform, pay homage to other warriors under many flags and from other times.

To me it is ironic that true warriors rarely call attention to their own deeds, but respect, study and emulate the deeds of others from a different time, and place as if they, the bygone warriors, had done something incomprehensible. It was with my Father, on this trip, that I realized he is just like the men he honors. There are no differences other than time, location, and opportunity. Just as he looks at others and their amazing feats and deeds, we look at him in that very light and with the same respect and awe.

Warriors do not always choose their battles, enemies or causes; but, when there are real threats and safety needs to be preserved, it is that person, willing to step forward from any generation, who protects the weak and secures the borders, that defines whether he or she is a true warrior. True warriors, harness fear and do the deeds that are hard. Although I believe DNA does indeed contribute to our desire to be a warrior, the character, heart, and values of a man or women are what ultimately compel them to step forward into the unknown fray of battle.

In summary it is not vital or even needed to have a warrior pedigree, or to have an ancestor that was friends with Wyatt Earp. What really counts is that you recognize in yourself the stirrings and desires to protect freedom, defend the weak and uphold the right whereever you are and no matter how hard the task.

To all who have or do serve abroad or on our city streets; I thank you, and honor you this day and always.