WILKES-BARRE — I want to go back to those days — you know, when everybody in the neighborhood, the town and the country bled red, white and blue. Back when being a patriot was part of our DNA. It was the way we were brought up. It was a way of life.
Just about every porch had an American flag hanging out front. We sat around picnic tables and drank from red cups and blue ones and white ones. Even the plastic silverware was color coordinated in the colors of the U.S. of A. Napkins were red, white and blue, as were the tablecloths.
Being patriotic was just the way it was. We celebrated our independence on July 4 and we were damn proud to say we were Americans.
At the risk of grossly understating the obvious, those good old patriotic days seem to have waned just a bit.
And if I’m right about that, then we better get the ship back on the right course and soon.
Back in the early 1960s, my dad would say to me on every July 4, “C’mon, we’re going to the services.” Yes, services, not service. My dad, as you hopefully recall, fought in World War II and lost his right leg on a beach in Northern France on D-Day. He never held that against his country. He accepted it as his sacrifice for doing all he could to keep us free.
After the war, dad joined every veterans’ organization — he even held office in most. And he celebrated the patriotic holidays and he was sure to show his respect for all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
So our first stop was West Main Street in Plymouth for a service at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial in front of Plymouth High School. We stood and listened to the speeches. We sang the Star Spangled Banner. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance. We were sure to thank all those other veterans for their service.
And then we would go to the next service. Usually it was at the Shawnee Cemetery. The same kind of service with the addition of a gun salute and taps played twice, not just once. A very sobering experience, for sure.
Then we would go to a parade and watch the soldiers walk by. We would enjoy the bands and the other participants. This was a celebration of America and its veterans — those living and those deceased.
I never questioned why we would attend all these events. I never once dared to try to wiggle out of going with my dad. I knew how much it meant to him, so I went along. And I was always glad to go. It made me feel good to see how proud everybody was about their country and how they appreciated each and every veteran for their service.
My dad was one of those kids who went to war. Just 18, 19, 20 or maybe a little older, these kids were sent off to fight for us. And fight they did. And they won every time.
Try, if you will, putting yourself at age 19 or so on a ship headed to Northern France in World War II.
Think about getting off that big ship and getting on a landing boat headed to Omaha or Utah Beach.
Think about all that gunfire coming at you from the Germans on the hill.
Think about holding your rifle as you prepared to jump into the water and storm the beach.
Think about staring death in the face.
Think about knowing that there’s a good chance you won’t be returning to your hometown and your family and friends.
Think about the prospect of never having the chance to marry, have kids and grandchildren, a new home, a job.
And think about all that and having the courage to keep going to meet the enemy.
I shudder when I think what those kids were going through and I get emotional when I think that they knew all that and they did what they had to do, never once questioning why.
You can apply this exercise to any war of any era. From World War II to Korea to Vietnam to Desert Storm to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. More kids facing the same prospects and going forward.
That’s why I always thank a veteran for his or her service. That’s why I say heroes walk among us. That’s why I hang a flag over my door.
That’s why red, white and blue will always be my favorite colors.
God bless America.