In World War 1 in Belleau Wood, as the French forces were retreating out of the woods under the fire of German machine guns… a Marine captain said “Retreat? We just got here!” And into the breach they went! In World War 2, the Japanese said that Iwo Jima would last for 1000 years; we raised a flag on it in Three Days!!! This generation not only defended liberty in face of totalitarian dictatorships but they came home and built the greatest prosperity this nation has ever known. In Korea, forces surrounded by communist Chinese outnumbered 20 to1. Col. Chesty Puller said, “Fellas, we got ‘em right where we want ‘em, we can shoot in any direction and hit the enemy!”
In Vietnam, fighting the spread of communism in a place called Khe Sanh … 500 Americans stood on a hill and said you will NOT take us off of here. Outnumbered 30 to1 North Vietnamese forces attacked them for 77 days and finally said, forget it, we are going home! These are stories that inspire a love of God and country, stories that gave us the freedoms we enjoy and stories that must be told.
In 1989, President Ronald Reagan shared his farewell address to the nation. Among his many remarks, are these… “An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties. But now, we’re about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an un-ambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t re-institutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom-freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection. So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important—why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant.”
President Reagan continued, “you know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, ‘we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.’ Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.” Interesting isn’t it, that almost 30 years later we are able to see the effects of not following through on the President’s advice?
I heard former Secretary of Education William Bennet say in regard to the failure of NFL players to stand for the National Anthem, “These men were never taught the stories of bravery, courage and heroism from our nation’s great history! This is in no way excuses their behavior; however, it does shed light on a generation who seems to know nothing of our grand history.”
The story of George Washington’s troops at Valley Forge, Col. Joshua Chamberlin and the 20th Maine at Gettysburg or, as the President said, the boys at Normandy. Let me tell you it’s hard not to shed a tear when you hear the music of our anthem begin after you’ve spent time looking into the eyes of a World War 2 Veteran and heard their stories of landing on Guadalcanal, or hearing a Vietnam helicopter pilot tell you the names of their personal friends who never came back.
Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” words still inspire us, “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me: As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;” Thank you may not be enough; however, we can serve our Veterans well by remembering their stories and by telling their stories to another generation that desperately needs to hear.
Tim Throckmorton is the Midwest Director of Ministry for the Family Research Council in Washington.