The Fourth of July is a uniquely American holiday. This weekend, I felt a little bit like I was a part of a Bill Geist segment on small town celebrations on CBS's Sunday Morning show. My father is a World War II veteran. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1939 and retired after a career in the military in 1968. Yesterday, the community of Lake Kiowa, Texas honored him and 31 other survivors of the 'greatest generation' for their contribution.
It was a very moving experience to witness hundreds of people remembering the sacrifice and commitment of these men and one woman. I was transported to a time when virtues like 'honor' and 'duty' were clear, to a time when Americans were willing to do 'the right thing'--no matter what the cost.
I don't think there was a dry eye in the audience by the time they had finished reading the names of each 'old soldier' along with a brief overview of each person's service. The message was clear:
"Without you, we would not have the freedom or the opportunities we often take for granted--your life has made a difference."
Most were teenagers when they enlisted, only three remained in the military after 1946, and today, they are in their 80s and 90s. Lake Kiowa, which is mostly a retirement community, had transformed the 'Lodge' into a festival of food, country music and booths raising money for various charities (interestingly, Lake Kiowa raises more money annually for breast cancer than any other community in America). Fifty or 60 golf carts were decorated in red, white and blue and people lined the streets as a convoy of convertibles carrying our Vets drove around the golf course and man-made lake. The 32 veterans proudly accepted all the acknowledgment and the expressed gratitude of three generations of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
At 93 years old, my father is a relatively healthy and happy man. He doesn't seek or even feel comfortable being the center of attention. But this year he accepted the limelight with a kind of grace and dignity that we don't see too often. It reminded me of how important it is to learn from our elders, to take the time to reflect upon their lives and the experiences they have had that we can barely imagine. I learned a lot about my Dad this year that I didn't know. And not just stories. I learned about who he is and the quality of human being one must be to believe in something enough to put your life on the line for it.
What I loved most about the day was there were no 'blue and red' labels, no ideological divide. While most of the participants were, no doubt, very conservative and there was very little evident diversity in the audience, the commitment to America was palpable and large enough to include and transcend our differences.
The next time I get on my soap box and rail against some political difference or another, I will remember the faces of those aging veterans and the fact that we're all Americans first and that means respecting other Americans--especially when we are on opposite sides of the political aisle. This is what my father fought for and what so many others of his generation died for. This is what America is all about.
© 2010 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.