Who am I? What have I learned in the last 68 years? What is it that I want my grandkids to know? What kind of world to I want for them?
I'm a Cold War BRAT who grew up in places like Germany, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Louisiana, and Japan. My dad serve during the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. My brother and I served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, I lived on a SAC (Strategic Air Command) base watching B-52s loaded with nuclear bombs practice alert takeoffs, thundering into the sky, hopefully never to have to deliver their cargo. I visited Atlas missile silos, each of which carried more destructive firepower than all of the weapons used during WWII.
My mother, brothers, and I volunteered in the Hospital at Tachikawa A.F.B., where the most critically wounded from Vietnam came for treatment before they could make the journey home, either as a patient or in a flag draped coffin.
I learned that patriotism isn't something you wear on your shoulder or shout about. It is something that you feel inside when you see a soldier putting his life on the line for you or your family. It's something you feel when you watch your dad go off to fight for this country, sometimes not to come home. It's what you feel when you read the founding documents written by people who put everything on the line, so that we could have this free country.
I learned that patriotism has no room for prejudice, racism, or hate. When serving this country, the only thing that is important is that you have the back of the guy next to you, and he has yours.
I spent 35 years teaching students to think for themselves, solve problems, understand the writings of our Founding Fathers, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence. I taught students about the philosophers whose writing inspired Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Franklin, and Madison. I taught my students to always push themselves and never accept mediocrity, to question everything and not accept supposed facts without demanding a source and then verifying the supposed source and context from which something comes, a skill missing from todays facebook or twitter posts.
Today, people want to rewrite history, erase relics of our past because they are "embarrassing" or not "politically correct." People like to focus on the flaws of our past, rather than the lessons learned. We want hold our founding fathers accountable according to the standards in place today, even though those standards and ideals are still in flux. I grew up understanding that we need reminders in our life of what can go wrong if people make poor decisions.
I've learned that the past is something to learn from, not fear. Statues and monuments represent the good and bad that have brought us to where we are. I've learned that ignorance and fear lead to hate, and education and experience lead to understanding. In post-war Germany and Japan, I learned that to move forward, even after the terrrors of war, people have to put things, good and bad, behind them. People in countries that committed terrible atrocities, were not defined by those atrocities, but were simply parents who loved their kids as much I my parents love me and I love my kids. I learned that leaders of nations who want to honestly help their people, make decisions that benefit all people, and leaders who are after personal gain or acknowledgement, make decisions that divide us. I've learned that political extremism, left or right, hurts this country and the world.
Most importantly, I've learned that I'm not a Utahn, Mississippian, Washingtonian, or an "an" from any other state. I'm an American. My loyalty is to the nation, its people, and the Constitution that is the foundation upon which this country was formed. I know that the founding fathers had flaws, and they knew what they were. Most felt trapped in a society that had institutions that they came to realize were terrible, but realized also that the journey to their vision of what this country could be, was going to be a long, at times painful journey. They realized that they couldn't change the entire world in one fell swoop, but that they needed to get started and change what they could at the time.
We spend too much time focusing on their flaws, and not on their vision. We're where we are because of that vision, inspite of the flaws. I want my kids and grandkids to grow up accepting all people, having dreams of what they can accomplish, recognizing that there are more important things than sports, fast food, and money. I want them to realize that its up to them to define their limits, not parents, teachers, friends, or enemies. I also want them to understand that failure leads to success as they try to improve and do better, and that relying on others to do for them leads to real failure and an inability to accomplish anything.
I want them to understand that real Heros sign a blank check payable to our country for an amount up to and including their very lives, they fight for more than getting a silly ball across a goal line or through a hoop. They put their lives on the line for our country and all of the people in it. They risk returning home in a coffin, draped with the flag that so many would-be heros can treat that flag, and them, with disrespect.
For my kids and grandkids, I want a world free from fear, one where caring for others less fortunate is more important that large bank accounts and violence.