His patriotism was evident and as a youngster I thought I’d grasped what “love of country” meant. But other life lessons were destined to bring me to a better understanding, though it was admittedly a long learning curve.
It sounds somewhat trivial, but movies helped. My family loved those Memorial Day marathons which introduced me to the Army’s unassuming Sergeant York (who won my heart by sending most of his paycheck home to his Ma)! I met John Wayne, who portrayed a host of officers in the various branches. I learned the meaning of “Full Metal Jacket” and can recite by heart many of the lines from Top Gun. Back to Batan, Patton, Midway, and Saving Private Ryan.
Little things observed can teach one lessons, too. I recall my often brash and blustery Marine Corps husband leaving a place setting purposely empty at
a family dinner. The prayer before the meal asked for safety for the missing guest, a cousin’s husband (Ken Slater, USAF, RIP) who was then serving abroad in Desert Storm.
I was perhaps a bit harsh with my sons at times in emulating discipline and other virtues I saw in those who committed themselves to the service. Self reliance at an early age was rewarded (who says a five year-old can’t cook). Friendships, with their unbreakable vows of trust, were honored. (That’s why I’ll never know which “pal” broke that window. I only know my son had to pay for it).
Teaching at Howe Military School taught me about the transition required for turning a group of varied personalities into one structured unit. The “young gray line” of students sometimes rebelled against the strict rules which governed all aspects of their life. But their growth in just a year was amazing. You could see it in their bearing, note it in their attitude. Their esprit de corps made them personally stronger and in no way diminished them as individuals.
Living on Beaver Island has allowed me to come to know an entire group of men and women who have served our country. They continue their devotion in the way they live their lives, the ceremonies they conduct throughout the year to honor our country, and in the respect evidenced when fellow veterans are being laid to rest.
Traditions, both happy and sad, express the Island Veterans abiding respect for those serving and those who have served.
Each November 10, a Marmaluke sword is used to cut the birthday cake at the Island Marine Corps gathering, with the honor of the first slice going to the youngest Marine present. And there’s not a soul among us who has witnessed Island Airway’s missing man formation at veteran’s funeral or the AMVETS gun salute and not been touched by the experience.
The Island community and their joyous abandon in celebrating patriotic events like the 4th of July is absolutely amazing. The memory of one such day stands out as proof of their unstoppable enthusiasm. I recall vainly attempting to keep my camera dry while standing in a total downpour as the parade headed down Main Street. My photos of that day bear witness to the sodden floats and the little girls tap dancing in their red-white-and-blue outfits – their images mirrored in the pools of water on the street. The camera captured the smiles and pride on all the faces – those in the parade and those watching, all standing in the pouring rain.
As a mother, I saw both my sons join the Marine Corps and serve in a total of five combat tours. I clung to a prayer bracelet given to me by another Marine Mom throughout those years. And yet, beyond the worrying and endless prayers I had this overwhelming sense of pride in their commitment.
So, on this 4th of July, I’ll take a long moment to thank my Maker for all those experiences that helped me to a better understanding of patriotism. I’ll remember all those who have served and those who are serving now so we might enjoy a joyous holiday without the constant shadow of fears to mar our daily lives. And, come rain or shine…I’ll be at the parade when the flag passes by…with that lump in my throat and hand over my heart.