When I was 14, my Dad asked me if I wanted to go to Washington, DC for a ceremony at the Vietnam Veteran Memorial. He told me it was a ceremony for one of his classmates.
We both wore suits to the mall on Sunday morning and ran into another suited gentleman about 30 years old, who said he was also attending the ceremony. Then he told us that it was his father that we would be honoring today and that he never met him…he was 1 when he died in Vietnam.
My Dad, a retired Major, was able to tell this young man a few stories about this Dad that he never heard.
The gentleman, whose father died, spoke at the ceremony about how, even though he never met him, felt that he knew his father through all the anecdotes and memories his Dad’s friends told him about. He wasn’t spiteful that his father died for his country and that he missed out; he was respectful and thankful that his father was the type of man who would defend his country.
My own father, the son of an Italian immigrant who left poverty-stricken Italy in 1914, enlisted in the US Army in 1948 as a 17-year-old high school graduate with the hopes he might be able to attend WVU on the GI Bill.
Through hard work, dedication, and some good connections he was able to obtain a spot at West Point, graduating in 1956 with future General Norman Schwarzkopf.
He had a bunch of his own adventures, traveling the world, and Korea and Vietnam in wartime and seeing speeches given by dignitaries. He was in Louisiana on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis and saw John F. Kennedy speak. He saw Dwight D. Eisenhower speak at his graduation and his own classmate, Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, speak at the conclusion of the first Gulf War.
My own love for America started with these annual visits to our Capitol. Walking the streets of DC with my ramrod-back straight father, always extremely polite and gentle to those he met. We saw Ford’s theater and walked across the street to the house where Abraham Lincoln passed; a pivotal moment in my life where I realized Abraham Lincoln was a man, like myself, like my father, and not a fictional character who laid railroad ties. He loved America, too.
Because we’re free to create our own way. My grandfather, in order to become a US Citizen, enlisted and was immediately sent to Europe to fight in the trenches during the Great War. And his wife, my grandmother, studied her tail off to become a US Citizen, too, because she saw through hard work, you can make a better life for generations to come.
I never met my grandfather, but I would thank him for taking that leap; to sail on a ship with thousands of other people, just to get to Ellis Island where you could very easily be sent back. And then on to West Virginia, to work in the mills where jobs were plenty.
Because of my Grandparent’s, I’ve had the honor of visiting 42 of the 50 states and each and every one has its own distinctive version of American culture.
My two sons are growing up in the greatest country on earth, one where we’re free to pursue careers so diverse, you can make a living thousands of different ways.
I hope that future politicians don’t try to change America; the founders were wise beyond their years when they created the “land of the free and the home of the brave”.