Visiting relatives abroad, my thoughts are in a faraway place. I’m thinking of much younger days, when my father’s family celebrated July 4 by reuniting on our back lawn — the one time a year, aside from weddings or funerals, aunts, uncles and cousins on ‘the Socci side’ could be found in one place.
Mainly, I’m thinking of the oldest men in the family. Mostly, first-generation Americans. Mostly, veterans of World War II.
Like Uncle Les, who earned four Bronze Stars fighting in the Army’s “Big Red One” in Northern Africa and Europe and a Purple Heart from a battle in Sicily. Like Uncle Jim, a Marine who came home from the South Pacific with his own Purple Heart. And like my father, Tony, a Tech Sargeant the Army Air Corps kept stateside from the summer of 1942 to the fall of ’45 to fix the airplanes needed to train fighter pilots.
They loved this country and showed it with humble service and sacrifice. They worked hard, faithfully supported their wives and families, lived respectfully and honestly, cared about their neighbors and succeeded in raising children who did the same. They led long, full lives — Les to age 96, Jim to 93, my dad to 83 — and left us with a country better than the one they found. Imperfect, yes. But inching at least toward fulfilling promise and possibility.
Shifting thoughts from then to now, them to me, I worry on this 4th of July about the country we are leaving to our kids and their kids. I believe we have made gains and lost ground in significant ways. What worries me most is the desire of too many to ditch the entire idea of an ‘American experiment’ — as in “of…by…and for the people” — and the willingness or apathy of others to allow it to happen.
People like my uncles and father faced the hardship of the Great Depression and did their part to defeat fascism and the despots who rose to power as populists in times of widespread despair.
Will enough of us in these hard times do the same?