This past Sunday, which was July 5th, Martha and I were returning home from a visit with our granddaughter, Riley, and we stopped at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, Virginia for lunch. Because it was Independence Day Weekend, I was wearing a shirt (pictured below) from the National D-Day Memorial’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. A gentleman about my age rose from his table and approached me. “I want to thank you for wearing that shirt on this day,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing.) “What those men did to keep us all free is inspiring and you wearing that shirt to recognize that actually makes me tear up.”
He was not kidding. His eyes were moist, and we shook hands not as a greeting, but in affirmation of a shared belief.
I shared this story with my good friend, Kurt, who pointed out that patriotism properly understood is bound to render one emotional, for patriotism is not a matter of waving the flag, it is a matter of understanding what it symbolizes and what has been sacrificed to keep its meaning relevant.
So, let me confess right now, that when I visited the site where Washington crossed the Delaware, I got teary. The silence that pervades national cemeteries makes me teary. Seeing 23,000 luminaries at Antietam National Battlefield on an early December evening makes me teary.
I get teary when I watch Hacksaw Ridge, The Best Years of Our Lives, 1776, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and other such films.
I get teary when I hear “Sentimental Journey” and think of what that song must have meant to my dad as he rode the train from Seattle back to Baltimore after being discharged from the Navy in mid-December, 1945. He made it home in time for Christmas.
There are many out there who may find it strange, that a grown man would approach a stranger and confess to emotions strong enough to produce tears. Well, it is not strange—or at least, it shouldn’t be, and if you find it so, or if you find it corny or not “woke” behavior, then the problem is yours. Read Private Yankee Doodle by Joseph Plum Martin, a private in the Continental Army or Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary. Visit Booker T. Washington’s birthplace and learn about what the individual is capable of overcoming. Or stand before the Iwo Jima Memorial and contemplate the fact that three of the six flag raisers never made it off the island.
America is an idea, and an ideal. Whether you are called to save the world as were the boys who stormed Omaha Beach, or you are called to simply be a good neighbor, see to it that you cherish that ideal.