“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” – Winston Churchill

“Officers must be made to care for their men. That is the sole duty of all officers.”  – George S. Patton

“The essence of duty is acting in the absence of orders or direction from others, based on an inner sense of what is morally and professionally right….” – General John A. Wickham, Jr., Former US Army Chief of Staff

“Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes. And those having it in one test never know for sure if they will have it when the next test comes.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.” – Franklin P. Jones

Article by 10970 Karmin McKay 

I do not believe that I was ever told what the meaning of Truth, Duty, and Valour was at RMC. Perhaps I slept through that lecture.  It was up to me to figure it out. I knew what was on top of the Arch, when the pair of cannons fired, the names of the old 18 and many other must know important facts. In the next few paragraphs, we will walk through various meanings of TDV and TDV in practice as I experienced it.

Others have stated:

Truth. Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddha

Truth. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. Mark Twain

Duty. There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences. P. J. O’Rourke

Duty.  We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it. Robert Baden-Powell

Valour.  If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened. George S. Patton

Valour is the courage to defend truth and duty. Karl Scharnitzky. Class of 76.

The Webster Dictionary Definitions

Truth: the body of real things, events, and facts (1 of six different definitions)

Duty: a moral or legal obligation, or obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position (as in life or in a group)

Valour: strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness

Army definitions in the Jr. NCO Mess

Truth: You are a liar or honest

Duty: You are hard working or a slacker

Valour: You are either a hero or a coward.

One of my classmates defines TDV as the tattoo on his shoulder which reads “Truth, Duty, Valour.” It is the credo guiding him through life. “Truth above all, one must seek. Duty is the willingness to accept obligations to others. Valour is the courage to defend truth and duty.”

What are your definitions? What if you are in the middle? Is there a middle ground in either of these sets of definitions? Let’s examine some incidents.

1972. I was first charged early in rook camp for using a forbidden stairwell. I would be late if I did not use it and get circles. Instead, I got 3 days C punishment. I broke my duty to use the other stairwell. My reward for being charged was to meet my mountain climbing partner who was also charged that day.

1973. I was studying hard one night. I was working my butt off trying to get ready for a calculus exam. We did not have a calculator that would give us an answer. There was a great deal of noise in the hallway during mandatory quiet study hours. I opened the door and yelled for quiet as it was study hours. I had not even had time to sit down when my door was thrown open and a very large and angry third year charged into my room screaming that how dare I, a mere first year, tell him to be quiet. I had turned to face him, and his arm was up to swing (I thought), I blocked his swing (thank you rook boxing), hit him with a right hook, and as he was now much closer to me rushing forward, I gave him a judo throw over my right hip into my lower bunk. His head may have hit the metal cross bars across the bed. This judo throw allowed me to land on top of him and I started pummelling him with both fists (thanks high school judo). There were many other cadets in my room now as there had been a lot of noise and my roommate was looking for help to save me. I was pulled off him, others got him out of my room, and I was soon back to studying. The next afternoon a fourth year approached me to tell me to go see the CSL about the incident. I asked what incident and he said the fight. Was I going to press charges? Before I could say no, there is no issue with me, the fourth year started the hard sell. The third-year cadet was a star on the hockey team. The team was going into the playoffs and if he was charged, he would not be able to play hockey.  I told him I did not need to see the CSL because as far as I was concerned it was over.  My reward was to be taught how to break into the mess hall by a different fourth year.  Hockey or not, by the next day, I had forgotten about it. Water under the bridge. Who or did anyone break a portion of TDV in the case? The third year, myself, my roommate who left me to get help, the fourth-year salesman or the CSL? Other fourth year? Hint, if you want something, and you are told that it is yours, quit asking for it. The giver may change their minds because of something you say later in the conversation.

1974. How many of the cadets at RMC have a pet in their room today? A third year had a large boa constrictor under his bed. Everyone knew that he had it including the squad boss. We (including fourth year) watched him feed the boa once a month. So, who broke TDV in this case?

1975. I went to get my laundry to dry it, and someone had decided that they needed my underwear more than I did. They had taken it from the rest of my laundry still in the dryer. I was miffed for a day or two and that was it. Until I found my missing underwear (name and all, not one pair but many) in another cadet’s laundry as I took it out to put mine in the same washer. He lost more than my underwear. And I did not take it for use either. I found my name in the laundry but not his.

1976. I was working with a R22R infantry company on exercise in Germany. We were in pursuit of our enemy and came to a defile (a long gully with thick woods on either side). The infantry major wanted to go faster and ordered me to lead with my tanks into the defile and he would follow me. I refused. He was breaking our doctrine. Infantry was to dismount and sweep the woods on either side to stop handheld antitank weapons from attacking my tanks. The infantry dismounted and away we went. My Major then told me that I was to obey the orders of the infantry Major and not to disobey him again. I refused to back down, told my major no and explained my side of the story. If I allowed my soldiers to think that the infantry did not dismount, we were teaching deadly mistakes that would kill us in war. The infantry would also get used to not dismounting. I was training my soldiers for war not playtime. He agreed with me. There are normally two sides to every story. I had been in Germany about 2 weeks by then, 3.5 months after grad. In war, I most likely would have obeyed but fired hundreds of MG rounds from my tanks into the woods and smoke while driving down the road. I have driven my tank through a forest and knocked all the trees in my way down as well.

1977. Just before Christmas the Regimental Sr NCO’s invited the officers for drinks. Some stayed late, that is, most of the Sr. NCOs and 2 Lt myself included. The RSM told me that I needed to get the other Lt. out of the mess before one of the Sr. NCOs hit him. I got the Lt.’s attention and told him we were leaving. Now he was angry with me and 30 seconds later we are outside getting ready to fight. The Sr. NCOs were in a circle around us. He was on the hockey team and known to fight. I was an unknown quantity. I had him unconscious within ten seconds. He was placed in the duty driver’s van. A WO approached us, looked at the other Lt, stated that I had not marked him and then punched him in the eye and nose. He had the largest hands that I have ever seen. Now he knows that you really hit him he said. Nothing was ever said about the fight again. 30 years later, I asked the CO of the time if he knew about the fight. He said of course, the RSM told him the next day. There was nothing to say about it. But, once again, who broke TDV in this scenario?

1978. One of my Cpls had been charged for a nuisance offence and I thought he might get a warning or no larger than a $25 fine. The OC sentenced him to 2 weeks in jail. I went to the adjutant and asked to see the CO. I told him why and he said that he would speak to the CO on my behalf. The Cpl was back to work in 2 hours. My relationship with this major went downhill fast after this happened.

1979. As a Lt, I was manning the Brigade Command Post and its radios alone at the end of a large exercise in Germany. As the operator of this radio net, I as a Lt was speaking on behalf of the BGen. The LCol told me that he would be back in 20 minutes to call ENDEX. I called ENDEX about 5 minutes later and 5000 soldiers immediately stopped the war and had a cold one. About 5 minutes later a very large and angry LCol stuck his head into the rear of the Queen Mary and screamed who called ENDEX at me? I had been working the radio at the time, turned my head and yelled I did and Fly Off as I am trying to save a soldier’s life.

All the HQ officers but I were off drinking an early congratulatory beer for a successful exercise. Meanwhile, an RCD soldier had his head squashed between a tank turret and hull. I had the only radio that could hear the men on the ground with the tank and the helicopter ambulance enroute to pick him up. The rest of the war was continuing and interfering with me relaying messages to the helicopter and tank. I called ENDEX and then stated that the Bde net was now a directed net. That means that no one was allowed to speak on the radio frequency unless I first asked them to speak. Smoke was finally thrown and seen by the helicopter, and I stopped talking. I took off my headset and turned to see about 15 head and shoulders stuck in the APC hatch listening to the drama. Nothing was ever said again to me about the incident. I was never left lone again in the CP during a live exercise. Neither was anyone else. A valid order a few minutes ago may be overtaken by events. Once again, I chose to disobey a direct order in peacetime operations. War is different. In garrison, I hunted and played squash with the LCol.

In addition to manning a shift in the HQ CP, I also had responsibilities related to the logistical requirements for the umpires. Hundreds of radios, people and other assorted items arrived from Canada to support large exercises. The equipment and people were to return to Canada. Another LCol was responsible for the Umpire operation. He had one person as a full-time gopher when required, me. The umpire equipment was stored in an aircraft hanger in the RCD area. A meeting was being held to review the umpire organization status following the exercise.  I happened to check the equipment status while hunting the weekend before the meeting. The meeting was between the 2 LCols, the Bde Major and myself. The meeting was going well until the HQ LCOL asked the Umpire LCOL if all the equipment had been sent back to Canada. He stated yes, all gone. My prayers started immediately, don’t ask the question, don’t ask the question. I do not have any pull because a second later the HQ LCOL looked at me and said ”Is that correct?” I said no sir, it is not. There are many radios etc still in storage. We drove to look in the hanger. I drove with the Major and he said one sentence on the 20 minute drive “There had better be some radios in that hanger.” Fifty Hail Mary’s later, we opened the door to see the radios. My plan was to brief the HQ team about the radios after the Umpire LCol left. I walked in the grey area before I was asked directly about the equipment. I wanted to avoid the drama which ensued.

1980. I was the CFB Toronto Duty Officer on a Friday night. I was told that I had a party to check. I expected 30 to 50 people at the most and walked into a crowd of 500 yelling and screaming men and a few naked women on a stage with a couple of naked men. I turned down the offers to venture onto the stage and left. I decided that I had seen much worse in Germany, that the few Base MP’s would have a little bit of trouble with 500 drunk angry men, and that I was not going to stop the party. I guess I should confess that several of my friends from high school were at the party.

1981. I needed plastic explosive, but the Army believed that a tank squadron didn’t, so I had none. My local Field Engineer Squadron buddy needed 7.62 mm belted machine gun bullets, but the Army had decided that he did not. So, we bartered as I had lots of spare mg bullets. Many others have done the same. Every troop and squadron had their scrounger who was told what to go find.

1982. While in Gagetown in 1984, I was voluntold that I was selected to be a member of a court martial. The soldier was accused of selling hard drugs to other soldiers. The court martial lasted three days. As much as I hated to, I found him not guilty as did the other two members. The MP’s had made too many mistakes. The Judge agreed. Had we found the soldier guilty, he would have overruled us. Sometimes fulfilling your duty really bothers you. I could not sleep for 3 days afterwards knowing that this soldier had beaten the charge through sloppy paperwork.

1983. Many of my buds and I attended our 10th year reunion. The Saturday night dance was held for all attendees in Yeo Hall. A group of my friend’s wives were groped by some cadets in the Trophy Room where they were talking. How the bar fight one sees in the movies between those cadets and myself and friends did not occur I do not remember. I believe its because the guilty could not be clearly identified. One of my buds would not have fought, he would have killed. He pound for pound is one of the strongest men that I have ever met. His wife was crying from the incident and to say he was angry is being polite. We have since then primarily kept away from the large group parties with cadets.

1984. In FMCHQ, as the SO3 OPS, I had the responsibility of briefing the daily FMCHQ (Army) duty officer as I was the full-time duty officer when I was in garrison. The duty officer arrived to spell me at noon so that I could go to the mess for lunch. I came back late 1315 vs 1300 to find her in the duty officer’s bed. I did not think that she would try to sleep while I was out to lunch. She was still in bed because the minute that I left she stripped and climbed under the covers, and a never-ending stream of men started entering the other door (beside the bed) to my office which had 4 desks, 5 phones, one of them red, living room for 300, 2 TVs, VCR, bed and a shower with bathroom. They used the duty officer’s shower as a change room before, during and after lunch for their noon hour run. I had never had a female DO before, didn’t think she would go to bed at lunch so never told her about the showers at lunch. I assumed that she knew because everyone knew. She neglected her duty by going to bed at noon while I did not brief her properly.  I never made that mistake again, other mistakes, yes. Brief properly and ensure that those briefed understand. Make sure that you understand the importance of the duty and that they do as well. The stuff always hits the fan when you least expect, want or are prepared for it.

1985. As the FMCHQ SO3 Operations, I had a job that required me to jump the chain of command to speak with the Commander of the Army. I was ordered to no longer brief the Commander unless I had informed my immediate superiors as to the briefing contents. The next time I went to see the Commander direct, both he and I agreed that I should also brief the BGen Operations and no one else. My answer to the chain of command was that they did not have the need to know said the Commander. It was the same answer I gave them every time. I could not believe that they knew that I had seen the Commander before I could walk 50 m back to my office. No texts, cell phones or internet then. The grapevine worked just as fast. My duty was to brief the Commander first for some messages, a very small portion that I reviewed prior to anyone else on the operations staff. I chose briefing the Commander rather than my Major or LCol on these messages. My BGen supported my decisions as it was my decision to make according to the content of the message.

1986. You have all been on courses with syndicates. Cadets, you have this to look forward to soon. One of mine had the typical bully that kept picking on the weaker students in order to score points with the DS (professor but with LCol rank). I had finally had enough and confronted him. I stated that if he did not stop, that I was going to beat him up. He was a Major from Wales. Three weeks later, he told one of my R22R friends that he was very impressed with my ability to speak English. He thought that I was Quebecois and spoke English as a second language. He also now behaved himself in class. He was going to be a LCol in a couple of years and a scuffle with a Canadian Capt might hurt his career progression. I had nothing to lose but stood to gain a few bumps and bruises.

1987. The Navy was sending some ships to the Gulf War (1990) that did not have air defence. The Army volunteered to provide the air defence systems, Man Packed Javelin air defence missiles. We had Blowpipe not Javelin. Imagine a drag race between a VW beetle and a Porsche. The Javelin is the Porsche. Javelin were bought. The price tag was high. The Air Force was told to fly to Belfast Ireland to pick up the Javelin units and missiles. They sent three Hercs. I was on duty when the call came in that one Herc was half full and the others were empty. Where were the rest of the purchases? There was no more. Missiles are expensive. That’s not the end of the story. As the Army target detection guy, I offered my guidance that if the air defenders had a missile system without a target detection system, how were they going to see an antiship missile in time to hit it even if they could?  I was told to be quiet and not speak on the topic again. By hook or by crook the Army was going to get some new high-tech gear in the hurry to go to war emergency procurements. The Navy and the Air Force were getting all the money.

1988. I was the Canadian Army representative on 5 different NATO committees that met twice a year. The minutes from the last meeting would arrive via secret snail mail about a month after the last meeting. They weighed about a pound each. Canada’s responses to the minutes and new business were to be in Brussels a month before the next meeting. The time to circulate the minutes and new business sections through NDHQ, get the responses, write Canada’s position, circulate again, get responses, and draft the final position took about 6 months at the fastest. I needed two more months to get it done properly. Try to do your real job and stick handle 10 of them a year. I only saw one being circulated in my time there. When asked if the paper was done, my answer was always Yes as I had completed it by concentrating on the areas that were important to Canada such as securing the NATO lead for a leading tech R&D project. It was once again a well-known secret that we could not finish the paper cycle in the time required for these documents.

I quit asking about TDV in the last several incidents. To me it seems that there are often conflicts between two different concurrent duties, orders or responsibilities. They conflict and you have to make a decision. Just like the Robert Frost poem, will you take the easy gentle path or the right path with its extra issues and increased risk?

So what is TDV in practice?

I will reword it. DTV

Duty – Doing the right thing for the right reasons. You may be called upon to do things that contravene direct orders such as I did more than once. This may on occasion, upset some others. Doing the right thing for the right reasons means there was no personal gain when walking in the grey area. I had a duty to support my OC as well as the Cpl. I chose the Cpl. I had a duty to support the orders of the LCol and chose trying to save a soldier.

Truth. Tell the truth as you remember it. The “as you remember it” is because in the fog of war, 10 people can see the same thing and describe it 10 different ways. As you age, time blurs the circumstances around an incident. When asked about it, tell the truth.  That does not mean you have to volunteer information that was not requested. Offer solutions not problems and that may mean a delay in passage of information until you have found a fix.  I had no problems as a Capt offering my recommended solutions to potential problems to the Commander of the Army. He agreed with my suggestions. I had also witnessed the same General tell a CO in front of all the other CO’s that the CO’s offered solution was crap and then he told the CO what he would do.

Valour. One does not have to be a hero to show valour. On occasion, doing your duty may require a great deal of courage. No one may even notice which is fine. That’s the job. Not all soldiers are going to win the Star of Courage and I hope that you never have the opportunity to try. You may however, have the opportunity while not in combat to be valorous in a fashion.

It is important to understand that what one person may consider a normal day at the office, others consider terrifying. The same terrified person may consider their normal day at the office a thing which terrifies you. I would rather fight 3 angry men then sit in a dentist’s chair. Most would take the chair.

I will offer a recent example of another ex-cadet’s (Class of 88) challenges related to duty.


“If we can’t follow values, at what point do I resign?” Eyre’s notes say under a section scribbled “thoughts.” “What say to public?” the notes say. “What do our values lend us to do? Rule of law, respect for due process.”  He was under intense pressure to deviate from his understanding of  the truth, his duties and core values. By considering resigning, he was brave enough to consider falling on his sword rather than allow his personal values to be tainted.

I am sure that he wishes he had not written those notes. You have a duty to record decisions made etc., but I never would have expected that personal drafts of personal thoughts and notes would become public property. HINT

I have not always followed TDV. On occasion, white lies have been offered to minimize needless disruptions and delays. As I said earlier, I can’t remember what I have said in the past so 99.999% of the time I tell the truth.  In doing what I saw as my Duty, I certainly frustrated some and made others very happy.  I never had the opportunity to be valorous or in my opinion witness it. I have rescued people in the water. I am a scuba instructor, was a lifeguard and swim like a fish. Helping someone in the water is normal for me as I see it. Not a big deal for me, an 8-year-old girl rescuing panicked adults is a very different circumstance.  By my classmate’s definition, I was valorous on many occasions. I asked the reader a question earlier in the article “What is your definition of TDV?”

Some believe that TDV is black or white. There is no middle ground, or grey areas to walk along the razor’s edge. We agree to disagree. I have had to walk that middle ground (DMZ) too many times. I know that on occasion others have had to as well. Facilitating an agreement between opposing groups (in another country or within your own unit) may require some tap dancing. TDV is very easy to say, only 3 letters. Living TDV every day is not easy. The team at RMC taught us many things. You either have TDV within yourself before grad or not. Following TDV as core values will never steer you wrong. It will cause problems for you as others will want you to act different. If and when you cross to the dark side, it will be very hard to get back to the good side again. There are too many stories in the press today about a few officers that may have strayed. Emphasize on may have strayed. You may be innocent but perceived to be guilty and punished before the public long before being found innocent.  Good luck navigating through the DMZ and its conflicts.

TDV talk is cheap, good whiskey costs money. Talk the talk and then try to walk the walk. It is very hard to climb a mountain in the winter. Been there, done that.  It is much faster and easier to ski down. Rich skiers use a helicopter to get to the top. Smart skiers get a free helo ride as a friend of the rich skier. The smartest skier gets paid to guide them skiing from the helicopter.  Some of us will live with TDV as core values, and others only when it benefits them. Each person skiing from the top of the mountain has a right to claim that they had the best all round trip. That is the truth to them according to their value system and what they wanted. Each person has a different point of view, and their version of the truth will be different than the others if the question is asked correctly. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.


10970 Karmin McKay is a frequent contributor to eVeritas. For his other articles please see here


  1. John McKay 10268 on September 7, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Karmin I fully embrace your views and observations. I would only add two further. If you want something impossible done, give it to someone who doesnt know its impossible. second, is a question; how did you find yourself in the iran-iraq war with just a briefcase and a cover story.?

  2. John Watson 6949 on September 7, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    I recall an interview with Smokey Smith VC in which he was asked to describe the most important attribute in his winning a VC. His reply: “Inexperience”.

  3. Howard Hisdal on September 7, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    Karmin, Thank-you! This was a great article. You have pointed out the problems with Truth, Duty, and Valour very well. You took me back to my infantry days in the 1970s. I also had my armoured days in the 1990s and 2000s. Sometimes it requires great moral courage to do the right thing. I look forward to seeing you at the Old Brigade Parade in 2022.

  4. 10966 Michel Maisonneuve on September 7, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    Great stories, advice, and illustrations of the motto. Never or seldom a black and white issue. Well done Karmin.

  5. Dale Robertson on September 8, 2021 at 6:34 am

    Thanks so much for the interesting stories, Karmin. They are of course similar to many of my own, which are similar to those of most of us. Your recollection of details is incredible.

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