On this Memorial Day I have decided to share with you my spirit of patriotism, but also I am going to share my road to this spirit of America and where I had strayed from the path during my teen years in the late 1980’s.
Once upon a time, during my high school years in the late 1980’s I failed to stand up for the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. It is to my shame that I tell you this, but it is just as equally important to be as honest about my restoration of faith in my country, and my fellow Americans.
So, my story goes like this.
During a very big ceremony at our high school I refused to stand during the pledge. After the ceremony my grandfather dragged me aside to have a private talk with me. I remember my grandfather being both equally furious as he was injured by my actions. Grandfather reminded me that he had lost some very close friends while he was overseas fighting in the World War and the Korean War. My grandfather went on to ask me if I was ashamed of my country, to which I replied, “No, grandfather. You know I always wanted to be just like you.” Now, this is something which might right away have confused anyone else, but my grandfather remembered me as his “number one” grandson, because when I was a little boy I was always asking him what I could do for him each time I visited his house, whether he needed the lawn mowed, the weeds pulled, bushes trimmed, car washed, garage swept—Anything I could do for my grandfather pleased my little soul. I admired my grandfather and I wanted to be just like him. (Jumping ahead, during my early adulthood I asked my grandfather if it was time for me to join the marines. To which he replied “You don’t need to.” And he went on to explain that everything his fellows did during the war was all that we’d ever need to keep us safe. Unfortunately, there is no end to war with our current power structure being a global tyranny.)
Well, I explained to my grandfather that I felt something which I was ordinarily reluctant to speak of. Grandfather nodded, as he knew this feeling himself (Many things he would not speak of, particularly about the war). But, he asked me to explain to him. I owed grandfather an explanation. So, I told him to the best of my ability that I had become aware of a change in the people, the other students, around me at school. They behaved in a way that I could only associate with what seemed to be a communistic type of mind (yep, it was already happening that far back in my school years) or extreme hive-mindedness. People just followed, and they attacked anyone who was different to their views. To this, my grandfather said that he understood my thoughts. However, my grandfather went on to talk about why America is the most important nation on the earth, and how my allegiance to the flag has nothing to do with whether or not I agree with my schoolmates.
For those young people reading this, you see America is about our freedom loving society, our freedom loving people, our forefathers who served to make us free with their efforts, and many other brave Americans who paid the ultimate price of freedom with their own lives, and the lives of their fellow Americans. It is our duty to defend this freedom and the spirit of America, because this great gift was given to us by those willing to sacrifice their lives (forever separated from loved ones, but who remain with us in spirit today and in the soil of our great nation. God bless America!)
So, continuing my story… I apologized to my grandfather for dishonoring him, and for dishonoring his friends and companions who he had lost during the war. And I meant every word of it. (About a decade later I was at my grandfather’s preview, and I helped carry his coffin along with my cousins. It was a sad day, but also my one chance to honor my grandfather during his transition from this world and into the next. That same day at the funeral park, I met one of my grandfather’s companions who had served with him in the war. The man approached me, and his sunglasses reminded me of the ones I’d seen in movies like Top Gun. This man thanked me, and I had to ask him why. To this he answered that he had heard all about the great deal of time I spent with my grandfather as he lie dying in his bed at home. I replied to the man in sunglasses, who was a friend and fellow companion to my grandfather, that the honor was all mine. And I was very close to my grandfather in life. We stared at one another for a long stretch without speaking. Through the sunglasses I could see that same gaze my grandfather had, as if one who was about to leave the world himself looking on at the next generation, with mind and eyes filled with wonder and gratefulness. I really cannot describe this in words. It is all in the eye contact, the firm but understanding expression which can only be written on the face of one who has seen much, and who knows that his time is being passed on to another generation. As well, I believe this man saw my grandfather in my face, and he was saying his goodbyes as sorrowfully as I was myself. But, we both loved the man we had known. I could see this in his face as well. A year later this man died, so my grandmother had told me. But, I cannot remember his name. So many things have happened between then and now, that I wonder if I have lost something precious to my memories. But, I do know one thing. I love my country as strongly as I loved my grandfather.
So, when I say to my readers the following words you will know I mean it with passion:
“Happy Memorial Day! And God bless America!”
And thank you, Grandpa, for setting me straight.
(In loving memory of those who served the United States of America, and to my grandfather Sergeant Joseph A. McHugh - may you all rest in peace for all eternity.)