Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific seventy-four years ago, a ship received a radio message to alter its course. The captain of the vessel complied.
That vessel and its “cargo” of American servicemen steamed into a port on the West Coast of the United States some days later and found a world very different from the one they had left just a few days earlier. It was a world at war.
Among those troops was my father.
A little more than two years later, he was at an airbase in England, fighting on another front. And he was not to return to the shores of this country until battles on both sides of the world were over.
Lucky for me.
Had that ship in 1941 sailed a few days earlier, made better time, or perhaps been closer to the Philippines (its intended destination), on December 7, 1941, the man who was to become my father might not have returned at all. Through a twist of fate, he and the others on board that lone grey ship were saved the fate of so many others on that day.
My father was born into a world at war. He served in World War II. Then in Korea. And, then, because his chosen career was as a military man, he was still in service during Vietnam, although he was not called to that conflict. His skills were needed in other parts of the world.
The American flag flies in front of my house today.
I am proud to fly that flag. I am proud to be an American. I want my country to be strong, prosperous, united, peaceful and free. I want the United States to continue to be a leader of the free world, and to work for freedom, opportunity and justice worldwide. I think that is also what most of my fellow citizens want. It’s just that we sometimes have different ideas about how to achieve those good things. But patriotism is not a dirty word. Nor is it to be taken lightly.
I know about duty, honor and country. They were not my first words, but they were some of the first concepts I was taught. I also learned to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, independent; to question everything, think for myself, form my own opinions and accept the consequences of my actions. Still, today, I think those are good life lessons.
Today is especially poignant because it marks the beginning of Hanukkah, recalling another kind of war and celebrating a corresponding victory over oppression; it embodies, as it has for generations, the hope for a better future. Today is also poignant because events here at home and across the globe strike fear into our hearts, challenge our beliefs and disturb our vision of a peaceful future.
Last night, the candles glowed in the menorah as they will for the next week. Today the flag flutters in front of my home. Tomorrow . . .
It is up to each of us, as individuals, to remember the past, hold on to our hope in this turbulent world and act on what we believe. Perhaps, by so doing, we can get past the issues that divide us and get to work on the ideas that bind us together.