Thursday, July 5, 2007

Patriotism: What It Means to Me

By Sue McKleveen

On a cold February day in Pennsylvania, seven men stood with guns at the ready by my father’s graveside. An American flag draped his casket to remind onlookers of his many accomplishments. While I stared at the dark wooden coffin covered in red, white and blue, I reflected on my father’s duty to his country.

As an enlistee in the Army during the Korean Conflict, my father went to California for a crash course in the Romanian language, then was sent to Europe to crack codes for the intelligence section of the Army. I grew up hearing stories of the people he’d met and the situations he’d encountered. My father was proud to serve his country. He was a true American to his last breath.

We were taught early on what it meant to be an American. My parents were born at the beginning of the Great Depression, making all five of their children realize what we had was not a privilege. Instead, the freedom of living day to day was earned. As American citizens, we were more fortunate than others around the world, having been born in the land of the free. We were told to clean our plates, to show we respected the benefit of having food on the table. Brave men and women had served their time and sometimes lost their lives to defend our way of life. My siblings and I were told not to let America go to ruin, to fight for what was right in our country. We still believe that to this day.

The bugler began playing Taps near my father’s casket. Those haunting twenty-four notes were like a tribute to the fallen soldiers, telling them their time was well spent and we, as a country, congratulate them on a job well done.

I’m told that the three-volley salute, using seven guns, each firing three times, was originally used on the battlefield to indicate that all shooting should cease to clear the dead from the land. The twenty-one sounds of gunfire at my father’s funeral made me appreciate all the people who’d died to make my country as great as it is, realizing they’d given their all on the battlefield.

Finally, it was time for the flag-folding ceremony. My sister, a celebrant, read the meaning of each fold for all present, while two chosen Veterans folded the flag thirteen times, representing the thirteen original colonies. The stars and the blue part of the flag symbolize the states our soldiers served, standing for honor and justice, while the white means purity and the red stands for valor. The folds themselves represent life, eternal life, a portion of the soldier’s life to attain peace throughout the world, trust in God, a tribute to our country, our pledge of allegiance to America in our hearts, a tribute to our Armed Forces, honor to our mothers, fathers, ancestors and religion. When completely folded, it is to remind us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

When the ceremony was completed, the folded triangular flag and a copy of the words were presented to my mother, sitting near the casket managing to look noble on such a cold and bleak day. I felt such pride for my father’s life, knowing he wanted me to carry on, fighting for what was right in our homeland.

So what is patriotism? According to Webster, it is “love for or devotion to one’s country.” I think it’s more than that, including the deep passion that stirs in one’s heart to fight for fellow Americans to preserve our way of life. It’s the feeling I had when I looked at the waving fields of grain across the Midwest or when I saw the Rocky Mountains in their glory for the first time. I felt even more patriotic when I gazed up at the Lincoln Memorial, when I walked the steps of the Washington monument so many years ago, and when I marveled at the faces carved into Mount Rushmore. I felt that passion to preserve America while crying for the lost on 9/11 and the day I stood in reverence at Arlington’s National Cemetery and at the Vietnam Soldier’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. My experiences made me want to guarantee America stays the way it is for my children and their children.

America is, by far, the greatest land in the world, giving us priceless freedom and encouraging us to succeed. I’ve met citizens from other countries, and we, as Americans, have no idea how good we truly have it. Market places are readily available for us, unlike other countries. Our medical care is second to none and our innovations help everyone around the globe. We have the ability to speak our mind or move across the country without being questioned. It truly is the land of opportunity, where the sky is the limit. I don’t take these things for granted, but appreciate it every time I vote—a freedom much of the world can’t freely exercise.

This country is great, thanks to every soldier and American who’s ever lived. Each citizen has his or her job to help the United States become even greater, from the weakest to the most powerful. We’re all in this together, and only we can keep this country extraordinary, by dreaming of the future. Together, we’ve sent men to the moon, created new technology, and solved problems all over the world. I’ve seen much of it happen in my lifetime and can only imagine what the future holds for us. I can’t think of any other country that encourages their citizens to dream of the best possible outcome, then allows them to make it happen.

My father’s casket lay naked, the flag resting in my mother’s hands while tears trickled down her cheeks. Yes, my father was a true patriot. He loved this land, as do I. Thank you, Dad, and thank you to all the brave men and women who have served this land to preserve my freedom. You’ve made me believe in the United States of America and I hope we can all make you proud, by keeping patriotism alive. God bless America, my wonderful homeland!

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