What is Patriotism?

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I’ve read or heard many versions of what is patriotism. My cousin, twenty years in the Navy, describes it during WWII, and mentions the Korean War at the end. This was written in 2007.

The American people today don’t wholeheartedly endorse the war in Iraq. We were attacked on 9/11/01, but perhaps not everyone thinks we are fighting the right enemy. Maybe I am still too patriotic to believe very few out there don’t think we should be fighting those who would encroach on our freedom, once everyone agrees on who that is.

WWII did not have that problem. We were attacked, and with Germany and Japan and Italy being allies, we were justified in everyone’s mind in fighting any of them.

This called for that old-fashioned word I have already mentioned called patriotism. Not that the men I was around ever talked about it. Maybe it was just understood, or maybe they stood a little taller and walked a little straighter whenever they were in the public’s eye.

For the public though, that was a different matter. I can imagine people sitting around at the barbershop or beauty shop, or having a cup of coffee in a local cafe, and that certain pride brimming over about a son or husband, or maybe a daughter being in the service, and how proud they were of them. Some might call that family leanings, but when it spilled outside the home, patriotism got added to it.

I could hear it in their voices whenever I was on shore, but guess I didn’t stop to think about it at the time, because I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, at least in my own mind, and that carried its own reward or penalty. Some of our men remarked about total strangers buying them drinks because they were wearing a uniform.

Sometimes there were even greater public displays, which didn’t let me forget where the American people stood. If we were lucky enough to be in port when Boston had a Policemen’s and Firemen’s Ball, service people were always invited free of charge. There was red, white, and blue bantering, American flags, gracious hospitality, and ladies to dance with, because they knew for some men it might be their last time.

Lemonade and Coca Colas were the drinks of the night, but, if one chose, one could always find something a little stronger without having to search a great deal. The music was typical big band thirties and forties, and a good time was had by all.

Today’s youth cannot begin to understand what that meant to all of us then. They might not even understand why we willingly went into war, aware ourselves every day, although unsaid, that some among us, as the ladies at the Boston Ball knew, would never return to our homes.

The gold stars imbedded in a small flag families hung in the front windows of their homes, let everyone know one of their own was serving in some far-flung region, defending the home front. A number of families had more than one flag.

Sometimes they didn’t come home. Many of those families left the flag there until the war ended. Then they graciously removed it, carefully wrapped it around the wooden dowel it had been unfurled from, and tucked it away in a trunk with what personal effects had been returned to them. Most of those family members are gone themselves now, but somewhere there are still trunks with reminders we should never forget.

The effects of wars are cumulative, going back even to the Revolutionary War, because had any war we fought turned out differently, our very lives would not be the same.

And the patriotism exhibited in those wars sometimes carried a stiff penalty. Those who paid the price can no longer speak. As one who survived WWII and the Korean War, but was among some who did not, I’d like to think I know what they’d say. “I hope you’re living your freedom in such a way that it was worth my giving my life for it.”

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