“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, Give me Liberty or give me death.” Patrick Henry
When my Grandfather first brought up the idea of leaving Germany, I am sure he was asked, “Where shall we go?”
And, like millions of other German immigrants before him, I am sure my Grandfather said, “America.”
America . . .
The dream . . . America . . . the new “promised land” . . . the new world . . . America . . . where a man could do anything . . . be any one . . . America . . . where men lived without fear . . .
America . . .
So they came, poor, penniless immigrants. The one mistake my Grandfather made was to settle in Texas. I don’t think he realized just how hot it was in Texas in the summer.
My Father went back to Germany eleven years later, dressed in olive drab green and carrying a rifle. He arrived in Germany as a warrior, a conqueror. He arrived back in Germany as an American, and it almost cost him his life. But he went back because he believed in his adopted country and what it stood for.
A country named America and its people had saved the world.
I loved my Father. He was a good man. And as I grew and learned what he had done in the Second World War, I loved and respected him even more. He taught me to love this country and why I should. He taught me the values this nation was founded upon. He passed on to me his love and his belief in this nation that had sheltered our family.
I was raised in a time where no one questioned saying the Pledge Of Allegiance in school. We said it first thing every morning. No one would have thought to challenge our right to do so.
We also took a minute for silent prayer in school. This happened right after we said the Pledge. No one forced us to pray, but you could if you wanted to. No one saw it as a conflict between church and state.
Not that many kids from small town Texas went to college in those days. We still had the Draft, so life consisted of graduating high school, serving four years if you got drafted, finding a job, getting married, and having kids. That was life as we knew it. However, to paraphrase an old song, “The times were a changing.”
They did not change that much for us. Change has always been slow to reach small town Texas, but changes were beginning to sweep across this land, mostly in larger cities and college towns. Changes in the way people thought. Changes in the way people acted. Even changes in the way people dressed and wore their hair. Mostly, changes in the way people treated each other.
The Civil Rights Movement was gaining strength as people finally began to realize the shame and disgrace of how Black Americans had been treated. John Kennedy was President and under his leadership America would somehow magically become a new Camelot. Industry was booming and people had more than they ever had before. The great tragedies of the World Wars were behind us now and would never rear their ugly heads again. We were exploring space and opening up new adventures for all mankind. The future held limitless possibilities.
And yes, we were very naive.
We believed we were better as a people, and as a government, than all others in the world. We were victims of our own propaganda. We believed our government did not lie. We believed it dealt justly and forthrightly with the other nations of the world. We believed it would never lie to, use or abuse its own citizens, especially its soldiers. We believed our boys were good little soldiers who played by the rules and would never massacre civilians. We were the just, the holy and righteous.
We believed in the goodness of all people. Mothers stayed home and took care of their families while the Fathers worked. Wives loved their husbands and vice versa. Divorce was a shameful thing and very rarely occurred. Alcohol was the drug of choice and Alcoholism was a problem for those who were weak. Everyone went to church on Sunday mornings and everyone was going to Heaven. Although it was sometimes hard to understand how God could love Tommy Smith or let him into Heaven.
Of course, there were still problems. The Russians still threatened the world. We all feared the bright flash and the mushroom cloud that would end life on earth. Little tin pot dictators still ruled several smaller countries and often killed their own people. We had no idea at the time that our government supported several of them.
But we all believed that these problems would work out somehow and life would always continue to be beautiful.
Our naivete ended on a November day in Dallas, Texas when John Kennedy’s head exploded.
A little while later Martin Luther King was shot and several large cities caught fire. And shortly after that, Robert Kennedy lay dying from an assassin’s bullet.
Mixed in with these events was a president named Johnson who outright lied to his people, handicapped his military, and escalated a war that was never officially a war.
But we did not know these things at the time. We still believed.
We believed in the Constitution and the Declaration and the Bill Of Rights. We believed in Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, and F.D.R. We knew that our ancestors had paid a heavy price for this land and the freedoms we enjoyed. And we believed that a bond existed between us and our government.
Because of that belief, that bond, that love, over three million of us wound up in a land on the other side of the world. There, our naivete died its final death in the blast of an RPG, or as Claymores shredded both jungle and human flesh.
We believed we were there to give the people we were fighting for the same freedoms that we enjoyed. We went knowing we would prevail, believing we were unconquerable, just because we were Americans. Those of us that died were the unlucky ones, the price paid for freedom. Ours was a noble cause.
Somewhere along the way, most of us realized that something was terribly, terribly wrong. We lost our ideals and just tried to survive. That war will be debated for as long as our country exists. What cannot be debated is the way our country treated us for years after we came home.
No longer am I an innocent, naive boy. No longer do I automatically believe what my country tells me. I despise politicians and politics. I despise certain things the government does. And yet, I still believe in my country. What I mean is, I still believe in the people of my country. I believe in those whose hearts contain the same love for the ideals this country was founded upon as mine does.
I believe in our people. And for me, the people of America are symbolized by those I served with. I still remember the nicknames we called each other. I remember the smiles when we joked. I remember the fear that cut deep into our hearts. I still remember the innocent boy I was before. I remember the beliefs in my country that were shattered so cruelly.
I still remember their faces.
Mirrored on those faces was pride in being an American. Mirrored there was the belief and love of country that brought us to where we were. Mirrored there was terror, mixed with the courage that belief in our country and in ourselves engendered.
I still remember their faces. I see their faces again whenever I see the faces of our young men and women who serve in the armed forces now. Many have joined the Military because the economy is so bad. But after they have been in for a while, I see love of country and belief in our ideals. I see courage, honor, dignity. I see love of the people of America. For ultimately they fight not for the country, not for the government, but for each other.
My time has come and gone, thank God. Now it is their time, and may God be with them. They symbolize what America means to me. A love for, and belief in ideals so strong, they are willing to put their lives on the line.
And just like our warriors serving overseas, we must serve with those same traits here at home.
My eyes still tear whenever I hear the National Anthem. Whenever I see our flag being raised on high or waving proudly in the wind I still feel a tightness in my chest. What America means to me is that most Americans love these things enough to give what Abraham Lincoln called, “the last full measure of devotion.”
This wonderful article was written and submitted by one of our readers who wishes to remain anonymous. If you would like to make a submission to The D.C. Clothesline please send it to [email protected] -Dean Garrison, Editor