Pluff Mud Chronicles
Learning about patriotism and what we think of it today
As it is July Fourth, and we’ve decided to explore the topic of patriotism, I’ll tell you the first time I encountered the concept. I was very young — a mere six years old, but the memory is still clear.
It was 1968, and after winning medals at the Mexico City Olympics, two African-American athletes named Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood atop the podium, bowed their heads, and during the National Anthem, they raised their fists in the Black Power salute in protest of America’s treatment of black citizens.
My father was furious. He took the time to explain to me the greatness of America, and all the good we’d done for the world. He told me of our nation’s generosity and soldiers buried all over the world who’d died defending freedom. He explained the chaos that enveloped so much of the world and how fortunate Americans were to be safe in their homes.
“Those men may have grievances,” he said, “but they embarrassed America in front of the world. You don’t do that. Ever. If they don’t appreciate what America has given them, they can certainly return to their ancestors’ homeland.”
I was six, and still remember that, partially because Dad was slow to anger, and I’d never heard him say anything like it. After he’d given me his opinion about the athletes, he went on to talk with me about the hippies, and how their actions were embarrassing to America.
I think my own realization of my own love for America was when Iran took the American embassy employees hostage. I was enraged and did the only thing I could think to do: I got some shoe polish and wrote “Nuke Iran” on the rear windshield of my car. It was then I decided I’d be a warrior in the ranks of America’s military and play a part in the war against such evil.
I don’t know at what point I began getting chills when I heard America’s national anthem, but I did. I felt the same way visiting Washington, D.C., and seeing the monuments to the great men throughout our history. Our achievements as a nation dwarfed those of the rest of the world. How someone could not love our nation baffled me.
Obviously, my patriotism soared on the day I graduated from Officer Candidate School, knowing I’d soon be commissioned as an officer of Marines. On the day I took my oath of office, I’d never felt prouder to be a part of something — something greater than myself.
Ronald Reagan was our president, and it was morning in America. It seemed anything was possible for the people of America. President Reagan turned around the ship of state left to him by the hapless Jimmy Carter, and all of America felt in tune as he won his second term of office in a landslide; it felt like our nation was finally unified.
Serving in the Marines made me feel that unity even more — my platoon was like something out of the film Forrest Gump: black, white and brown, but all shades of green. Racism was something we all laughed about … when one of my Dark Green Marines was assigned a dirty task, he’d shout that the decision was racist, and we’d all fall out laughing.
I was angry when Bill Clinton was elected, as I didn’t believe he had the personal code of honor needed to lead America. His letter when he wrote that he “abhorred the military” felt like a gut punch, knowing he’d be the commander in chief of that sacred institution.
My love of America has evolved throughout the years, and as my disgust with the corruption in the Swamp has grown, I’ve wondered if that means my love for America was waning.
Then it occurred to me that the government isn’t the United States … that honor belongs to the people. For every whining and privileged liberal, there’s a farmer toiling under a blazing sun, feeding the nation and much of the world. There are welders, pipefitters, Zippy Mart cashiers, carpenters, truck drivers, roofers and garbagemen in every city in the nation. How they vote doesn’t matter — they are the backbone of the nation.
Our middle class isn’t the only populace that makes America great. We have brilliant men and women making advances in medicine, architects that design our world and contactors who build it. We have brilliant legal minds and lead the world in technological advancement. There are teachers who selflessly invest their lives in the future of our children. We have small business owners who gamble it all in pursuit of the American dream.
We the people are the bedrock of our nation.
I find it irritating that it’s become a trend among Americans who hate America to claim, “Wanting to improve our country is patriotism.” I find the concept ridiculous, as these individuals want to tear down the institutions that have made America great. Like Maoists, they want to erase our past due to our mistakes and demand men and women from 150 years ago live up to the moral code we have today. They love our government when it bows to their will, and big businesses that cave to their woke ideology. But they hate Americans who think differently.
In short, they want to “fundamentally transform America,” by destroying all the good to usher in their perverse ideas and beliefs.
I think back to my father’s words about never embarrassing America and ponder where we are today. I think of Joe Biden, who’s made the office of the presidency a laughing stock to the world. I think of drag queens grinding in front six-year-old children. I can do nothing but laugh about the bone-deep corruption in the White House, our technology/government collusion and the DOJ and FBI.
However, I remind myself those things aren’t America. The people reading this paper are. The people who milled the paper and delivered the paper in semi-trucks and printed the pages are.
And that’s enough for me to love my country.
A host of Charlestonians planted the early seeds of my patriotism. I really had no choice but to follow the flag. Members of my family have served in every branch of the service since the earliest days of Carolina, and it was not long before I saw reports on the television news about the Vietnam War and learned about the Cold War from my parents during commercial breaks and when going on trips or around the dinner table. Some days I would sit in my room and point to my globe and ask my mother about many countries. She may not have had much to say about some remote nations barely on the map, but she always knew if they were free or under the thumb of the Soviets or Chinese. This moved into a conversation about Sen. McGovern and the 1972 race for president. Mom made all the battle lines so clear that I insisted on sending President Nixon my allowance of $.10, which he returned with a nice booklet on the White House.
When we played “war” with other boys in the neighborhood, we heard about the Japanese and the Germans, and some older lads knew if their father or grandfather had participated. At that time, I had no idea that my Uncle Peter Drury had flown a Corsair with the United States Marine Corps, so I had no bragging rights and thought all the other guys had a special family patriot story that I was missing. Time would correct that notion of inadequacy. We once had Fourth of July parties on Sullivan’s Island where American flags flew, and men smoked and drank and sometimes had choice words about our nation’s enemies. I knew the side where I did not want to be; moreover, I knew our nation could produce good barbecue and hash on rice. We rode home late in the old Ford Country Squire with a Nixon ’72 sticker on the bumper, and Mom and Dad were still talking about that *&^% McGovern, as clouds of cigarette smoke billowed throughout the car; the AC was on full blast and windows were up.
In these days, I remember having a bumper sticker on my bicycle’s rear fender that said “POWs Never Have a Nice Day” with a frown somewhere on it. I grew up a little more and learned about Carolina Day and that great victory at the palmetto fort. Then, Randal Robinson became my neighbor, and he told me about flying a helicopter in the jungles of Vietnam. Then, Col. William Simpson moved next door on the other side, and he also had been in Vietnam but did not discuss it. A few younger guys in the neighborhood had issues with war, Nixon and killing bad guys, but I did not let that tone down my passion for the patriots. I just knew America was a great country where you could learn to sail in your harbor where, on June 28, 1776, we defeated the greatest navy in the world at the time.
From my early teen years until now, I have learned more about the importance of American leadership in the world and what happens when we demonstrate weakness. I also have developed a dislike for protracted political wars and think we need to fix situations as best we can and then pull the hell out quickly. We have the tools to accomplish our goals, but we use half measures for political reasons. Nation-building through a Marshall Plan after World War II is not same as what we have attempted in recent years; rather, it always a trap. The rest of the world should be absolutely quaking in their boots about messing with Uncle Sam in that Toby Keith sort of way as presented by his “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” If the rest of the world respects and fears the “world’s policeman,” we don’t need to send the fine members of the armed forces to fight as often, which is what I would tell a teenager as I concluded my advice about understanding patriotism.
I would start by explaining America’s role in ending the big global conflicts of World War I and II and how we had to stand up to the Soviets and the Chinese in the Cold War. I would offer examples of how living in a Soviet satellite nation was not even close to real freedom, and I would talk about the Berlin Wall falling. The complexities of the former Soviet Union are tremendous and would require more than I can write here, but I would offer examples from when I lived in Kenya and was a witness to how things were changing and my visit to the old Soviet embassy in Nairobi. I was young and full of hope for a trade deal, but it never came to anything but a nyet.
Before all that business in Kenya, I was working for Arthur Ravenel, Jr. and took a deep plunge into patriotism as I went on trips with other staffers who had bosses on the Armed Services Committee. I saw demonstrations by the U.S. Marines at Quantico; it was no surprise, but it served as confirmation of what I have long known about the capacities of our fighting forces. They are not here for social experiments but serve to break things and kill when necessary to defend us from the thugs of the world. These soldiers, airmen and marines are the ones who allow us to sleep well at night, and we can never do enough to thank them for their service, which you often hear from the Washington Light Infantry gents. I have had the good fortune to know many of the WLI members, including the late and great Henry Siegling, and I hope and pray youngsters will get to see them in action and be honored to visit their armory as a guest.
I would continue with my perspective of watching Gulf War I start while living overseas and explaining that a Sewanee graduate was among the first to die. The wretch might speak about friends and cousins who survived and fought with honor. This is a long topic but a good one for a teenager.
To wrap it up, I’d let this youngster know he or she can make a difference in this world by supporting our fighting forces and respecting them. The business of signing up to fight is upon them for another day, but it is something to consider with great care. I would suggest that they listen to the music played in the service of thanksgiving for Carolina Day and let the words speak to them; this is who we are as a nation, and why freedom is never free.
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