“Only 2 defining forces have ever offered to die for you….Jesus Christ and the American Soldier. One died for your soul and liberty, the other for your natural freedom.” Lt. Col. Grant L. Rosensteel, Jr
I usually sit at home on Memorial Day and watch war movies. I immediately revert to that kid that roots for G.I. Joe! I hated when Sgt Stryker caught that bullet as he fired up that last Lucky Strike! When I watch it now I realize that he might have caught that bullet because of his repeated use of the word “Jap”!
No one was trying to be politically correct back then. Political correctness or a different view of war did not come into vogue until after the Viet Nam “police action” that took the lives of too many Americans and more Vietnamese than anyone will ever admit to. Watching snippets of the war from the ground level each evening on the CBS News changed my perception about fighting for causes that I did not completely understand. When I watched the movie Apocalypse Now! for the first time, I remember praying about what I had seen and felt, on my way home from the theatre. The film was a powerful expose on the interest of the military industrial complex. It reminded me of what I knew about the intrusion into Viet Nam back in the mid-sixties. I thought about the young men from my neighborhood that had gone there. One in particular returned with a head full of white hair at age 23. All of them came back home but were forever changed.
It was easy to for me to be judgmental and resentful about something that I was remotely connected to because, by the grace of God, war had never touched me in a critical way. My father was a WWII veteran, a brave American who wore his Am Vets cap on Armistice Day, and always saluted the flag when it passed by us in parades. After his death, there was no one to personally remind me of the heroism of war. I had white-haired Leroy with the vacant look in his eyes and Albert from down the block that talked about his time on a helicopter crew. My point of reference became books like The Rich And The Super Rich, Das Capital and the Pan Afrikan movement to influenced my view of American interest on foreign soil. I grew angry and cynical about this country and the countless lives that were lost during the wars. I decided that I would focus that angst in constructive ways by working at making this country a true land of freedom and liberty for all. I did that for years then I wavered. My militancy was co-opted by my desire for creature comforts. I got caught up. I focused on commerce and let my inner venture capitalist run free!
On Tuesday morning September 11, 2001, my view of my life in America changed for all time.
It was break time, so I got up from my desk with the intention of going to the snack bar and grabbing my second dose of caffeine. `On of my co-workers had a tiny television hidden beside her computer monitor. People were gathered around her cubicle watching the tower smoldering. I went over to see what was going on. I noticed that my manager was pacing up and down the aisle. I went over to her to find out why she appeared so agitated. She reported that she had a relative that worked at the towers. She called him and found out that he had been delayed on the subway and never made it to work. She was still in a mild panic because she had 2 other relatives in Manhattan and could not contact them.
Shortly after the second plane had struck the south tower, I got a call from my favorite sister-in law. She was concerned about her oldest daughter’s safety and asked me to go pick her up from high school. I took the remainder of the day off and drove to the school to rescue the daughter. It took a while for me to perform my mission because hundreds of parents were in front of Cass Tech extracting their children from the school. We all understood that America was under siege but no one know by whom or what the next target might be.
I spent the rest of the day watching the surreal events on the television. Nothing had happened here in Michigan but there was no reason to believe that the atrocities were over. The country was forever changed.
On Sunday May 2nd, when Celebrity Apprentice was disrupted for the presidential announcement, I felt a different kind of apprehension. When the anchorman blabbed the news about bin Ladin, my level of apprehension increased. In the days that have followed, I’ve cringed each time Letterman makes a joke about the man or someone within the local media makes a bad joke at a dead man’s expense, I send up a little prayer. I don’t mourn his death. I fear reprisal.
Too many Americans fail to understand the hatred and ambivalence that many people have for us and what we symbolize all over the world. I learned at an early age that there are several Americas: the imperialist bully that many love to hate, the land of promise and opportunity of which the multitudes seek refuge, and the one that patiots like my father, Leroy and Albert fought to defend.
On September 11, 2001, I realized that I too am willing to defend this country with all that I have to give. Despite its flaws, American remains the greatest country on the planet.