All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

Patriot Summer

Is it just me or does summer feel like an especially patriotic time of year? As soon as the 80 degree weather rolls in, I’m ready to roll out all the red, white, and blue.

This inclination is likely for good reason: late spring and summer offer multiple patriotic holidays.

Cue a John Phillip Sousa march! 🎶

We just marked the solemn occasions of Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during WWII–both necessary and important reminders of the cost of our freedom here in this sweet land of liberty.

Now, we are on to more festive and jubilant holidays: Flag Day (also the US Army’s Birthday) today, June 14th and, of course, Independence Day on July 4th!! #partylikeits1776

As a bookworm and a history buff, some of my favorite types of books are ones about American history as well as memoirs of our presidents, military service members, and other notable figures.

What better time than these sun-drenched days of summer to lay on a hammock with a cool drink on a lazy afternoon and learn more about our nation’s history and the people who have helped to shape it both in the past and the present?

It may make all these patriotic holidays even more meaningful.

So without further ado, I thought I’d share some books I think are worth reading.

1) 1776 by David McCullough

1776 reads more like a novel than a history book. McCullough’s writing is engaging and vivid. He presents all the historical figures, American and British, in their full humanity with strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, and idiosyncrasies. Ample recourse to primary sources such as letters serves almost as dialogue in this riveting story. I learned much about this pivotal year in America’s founding as well as the characters of its principle playmakers, especially the admirable, fallible, courageous tenacity and leadership of George Washington whose circumstances and obstacles frequently appeared insurmountable.

2) The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America’s Founders Really Believed by Alf J. Mapp, Jr.

I haven’t read this book in a few years, but I remember it as an interesting look at the Founders’ religious beliefs, which ranged from orthodox to definitely not-so-orthodox. It’s not a continuous narrative but divided up by individual, so it’s a book you can set aside and then pick up again without having to refresh your memory about what just transpired.

3) The Declaration of Independence

Okay, this one isn’t a book, but what more appropriate time than Independence Day to read the document that officially declared that our country was the United States of America! It’s kind of like our nation’s birth certificate. You can find it online.
Under this entry, I’ll also add The Patriot’s Reference: Documents, Speeches, and Sermons that Compose the American Soul edited by Joel J. Miller and Kristen Parrish. This book contains the Declaration and numerous other primary sources of American History. I have not read them all but it’s a good book to have on hand.

4) Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose

This is the book on which the popular TV mini-series was based. It brings home the unthinkable realities of war. Well-written and engrossing.

5) When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

If you’re a voracious bookworm and a fan of WWII history like me, this book is a perfect combination. I had no idea of the tremendous impact that books, especially the Armed Services Editions paperbacks, had on the morale of our troops. Not only that but the books turned a whole sector of the population into readers and learners post-War. Books were “weapons in the war of ideas,” which this book shows was just as critical as the physical battles being fought. Books represented democracy and freedom in contrast to the Axis powers’ tyranny and oppression. Amazingly, the U.S. distributed more books to the troops than Hitler destroyed.

6) Over Here, Over There: The Andrew Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II by Maxine Andrews and Bill Gilbert

A more light-hearted but still informative look at the WWII years and just how much every part of society gave up to support the war effort. Makes one wistful for a time when the country was so united and everyone was willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.

7) American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice

I have not seen the movie based on this memoir but the book is certainly an eye-opening and gritty firsthand account of war.

8) Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Lutrell and Patrick Robinson

Gripping and page-turning story of endurance and sacrifice as told by the Lone Survivor Marcus Lutrell. In recent years,his story was also turned into a movie (haven’t seen that one either.)
Both American Sniper and Lone Survivor are intense accounts of war but they offer authentic, thought-provoking perspectives for civilians who have never had to endure the unimaginable atmosphere of modern warfare. Both Kyle and Lutrell are gloriously unpolitically correct. They definitely pull no punches in their accounts in order to sugar coat harsh realities or to protect feelings. Yet they are not writing to sensationalize their experiences but to honor those who served alongside them. These aren’t always easy books to read but they are certainly impactful and profound.

9) Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service by Gary Sinise

You may know Gary Sinise from the movie Forrest Gump in which he played Lieutenant Dan or from the TV series CSI:NY but you may not know all he has done to support our military service members, veterans, first responders, and their families. He has gone on 100 USO tours to entertain the troops, and he has established the Gary Sinise Foundation, which has several different programs assisting our service members, veterans, and first responders. He is such a decent, good man and a true patriot. His story really inspires you to support those who protect our freedoms as well as to persevere through one’s own challenges.

10) My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas

Very interesting autobiographical account of the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He writes honestly of his own shortcomings and the obstacles he faced as an African-American man raised in the South and coming of age in the Civil Rights era. His determination and thoughtful opinions based on experience when it came to things like Affirmative Action are certainly valuable to today’s public discourse.

11) Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachem

I checked this book out at the library shortly after President George H. W. Bush passed away last December. It is quite the tome but Meachem’s writing is not dry and this book is a lesson not only in the life of our late president but also in how politics functions and in the historical and cultural changes that transpired during Bush’s life span which covered the back half of the twentieth century. Side note: Jon Meachem eulogized Bush at his funeral.

12) Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me by Condoleezza Rice

I’ve read this book a couple times. Rice’s journey from a little girl in the segregated South to her service in the national government is inspiring. Her attitude of never succumbing to victimhood in the face of prejudice and of striving always to be her best and pursue her passions is inspiring.

Note: Obviously, recommending a book does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of everything contained in said books.

Happy Reading and Happy Summer!!

🇺🇸😎

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All, Culture/Life

How 9/11 has shaped our lives

As we approach the 17th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, it is quite stunning to consider how the repercussions of that tragic day are still being felt nearly two decades later.

Courageous first responders, who selflessly ran to Ground Zero to save others, have been and are continuing to fall ill and die because of the toxic air they inhaled that fateful day.

As a result of those appalling attacks, a galvanized and freedom-loving America became engaged in its longest war. An entire generation has grown up not knowing what the world was like before 9/11, what it was like for America not to be at war.

Some of those who are fighting this on-going battle were barely old enough to remember this century’s “day of infamy” that ignited the global war on terror.

Many beautiful human beings, who might otherwise be working civilian jobs, caring for and enjoying family and friends, have fought and died in the fray.

In some ways this war is markedly different from the wars of our parents and grandparents. Most of our lives are not consumed by the war effort like in WWII when victory gardens, rationing, and scrap metal drives were prevalent and every sector of society was doing its part to support the cause of freedom.

Nowadays, our armed services, amazingly, are all volunteer. This isn’t a war of conscription like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

Despite these important distinctions, our lives have been shaped and continue to be shaped by 9/11. Think of how much politics and national security are defined by the ramifications of that day. Every election cycle, candidates promulgate their ideas regarding the war, the troops, and how to keep America safe.

Think about how much the travel experience has been altered because of that day. Being born at the beginning of the nineties, I remember being able to go past security at the airport and wait to greet my grandma when she came to visit or to wave at the window as we watched the plane take off when she left. Now we can only accompany loved ones as far as the security line where we go through all sorts of safety measures that have changed and grown since 2001 and that have become routine.

We have been taught “if you see something, say something.” Sadly, numerous people have been lost in subsequent terrorist attacks since 2001, such as in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

Tomorrow as we reflect as a nation and honor the memory of those who died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania seventeen years ago, let us also ponder all that has happened in the wake of that day.

One good result of this national tragedy is perhaps that we as a nation are more grateful to our troops and have more of an awareness of what America means as a country and its role in the world. In the immediate days following September 11th, we did unite as a nation and come together in shared prayer and patriotism. We can hope and pray for a return to those sentiments in these days as well.

May God be with all those whose lives were lost or altered on and because of September 11, 2001.

Never forget. 🇺🇸🗽❤️

Setting out one flag for every person who lost their lives on 9/11. (2015)
All, Culture/Life

A Capital Day in the Nation’s Capital 🇺🇸

Hello everyone!! A little over a week ago, a long-cherished wish of mine was fulfilled! I finally visited our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a day trip with a friend and fellow history-lover.

I live within a comparatively short driving distance from the capital, so it’s a bit unusual that I haven’t played the tourist there before now. But to everything there is a time and a season, and I am so delighted that the time arrived at last! Moreover, it had been an exceedingly wet, rainy week, but we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine for our adventure.🌤

If you’ve never visited D.C., I highly encourage you to make the journey. What I saw and explored only whet my appetite to return to see and do more. I believe it really takes multiple occasions to experience all that history-rich city has to offer.

Upon arriving at our Metro stop by the Smithsonian museums, I emerged from the stairwell to two patriotic, picturesque sights. I looked to my right and saw the Capitol building and looked to my left and the majestic Washington Monument greeted my eyes. It’s not an exaggeration to say this was a thrill. One of those “pinch me” moments!

Though obviously we couldn’t see the whole city in one day, I’m pretty proud of what my friend and I accomplished.

We took in some of the major exhibits at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (rocks & gems, mammals, and a whirlwind pass through the mummies and dinosaurs) as well as four displays at the American History Museum (Star-Spangled Banner, First Ladies, American Presidency, and America on the Move: Transportation).

After revivifying ourselves with cold drinks and chocolate on a bench facing the architecturally magnificent Department of Agriculture Building, we set out for the pièce de résistance of our excursion: the National Mall.

In my inexperience, I had pictured the memorials and monuments of the Mall as more or less in a straight line along the length of the Mall.

No, no. Some are off on side paths which require purposeful walking. By this point, our energy was beginning to wane, so we had to be selective, and we saw four of the eight major sights: the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. We also stumbled upon a smaller memorial that is less well-known: the District of Colombia WWI Memorial. I think this somewhat humble monument deserves more attention. WWI was such a significant war, and the memorial’s plaque states that some big names like John Phillip Sousa were present for its dedication. Go search it out!!

All in all, this was a truly awesome day!! One can’t help but be proud to be an American when visiting D.C. No matter who is the president, it’s an amazing moment to look at the White House and think “wow, the president of the United States is in there!”

It is surreal to visit history museums and stand before artifacts like the flag that was flying over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner” or to look at the top hat worn by President Lincoln when he was assassinated or to see a pair of Teddy Roosevelt’s chaps. It’s humbling and exciting. It’s like time travel, a link through ordinary items to historical figures who shaped our country and, consequently, our own way of life. It’s a testament to the human need to remember from where we came and to our fundamental need for connection. And it deserves some pondering.

The Mall monuments are truly beautiful. The solemnity of the Lincoln Memorial. One can feel the weight he bore on his shoulders. The haunting expressions of the soldiers that comprise the Korean War Memorial. The wonder and expanse of the WWII Memorial with its pavilions and fountain and numerous stirring quotations from presidents and generals.

I just love it. It’s also plain cool to see and hear visitors from around the world touring the sights of America’s capital. For all its warts and struggles, America is still a beacon of freedom for the world, and it is a blessing to live in this country.

When many statistics and polls can be pretty disheartening about people’s lack of historical knowledge, it’s also hopeful to see young parents bringing their children to visit these important places of history.

I’m so grateful for my friend’s and my adventure, and I am eagerly awaiting our next trip to explore more of our nation’s capital. 🇺🇸

P.S. The cafeteria in the American History Museum serves really tasty food. Barbecue chicken and cornbread for the win! 😋🍗

All, Culture/Life, poetry

The Hero

I’m going to ask for your indulgence again when it comes to my attempts at poetry. This latest poem was partially inspired by a truly awesome opportunity I recently had. In March, the ballet company with which I dance put on a memorable outreach performance at a veterans care facility in my state. We performed a very poignant piece that’s set during WWII. It’s an audience favorite that whisks me away to a different time and place, and I feel so incredibly grateful to be a part of this beautiful tribute to our military, especially those of the WWII era.

After our mini show, we were able to greet many of the elderly veterans who had watched. The warmth of those interactions left a long-lasting imprint with us as dancers.

I have written about supporting the troops before, and the military has a special spot in my heart for numerous reasons. So without further ado, here is:

“The Hero”

There he marched,

Tall and straight,

Strength and vigor in his gait.

His uniform, starched and pressed,

American patriotism at its best.

His unwhiskered chin set like steel,

But a glance at his eyes

And one could feel

His fears and hopes and

Dreams delayed,

His home to defend,

The land of the brave,

Family and comrades whom he loved,

For whom he would fight,

Would shed his blood.

A girl, his sweetheart,

The love of his life,

He still prayed that

She would be his wife.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wrinkled and weathered,

There he sat,

A twinkle in his eyes,

And on his lap

Lay a faded veteran’s cap.

His trembling hand

Reached out for mine.

His grip secure,

Undiminished by time.

I could picture him,

Young and strong,

Filled with devotion, mischief,

And charm,

His deportment upright,

But his smile,

Roguishly warm.

Now his grin grew wide

As he spoke of his bride

The girl he had once prayed to marry.

They had made a home

With kids of their own,

A life that was blessed

With joy, strife, and rest.

In his heart, her love

He’d always carry.

Then his eyes grew dim,

His mouth became grim

When he remembered

His fallen brothers.

His voice tight and quavering,

With loyalty unwavering,

His attention still upon others.

My heart, it glowed with love and pride,

Tears in my eyes could not be denied.

He thanked me for being there,

“No, thank YOU!” I cried.

While silently I offered a prayer

Of blessing and thanks to God:

“Oh, bless this hero

And all he gave

For the land of the free

And the home of the brave!”

(Image credit: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=134882&picture=american-flag-grunge)

All, Culture/Life, Family

Supporting the Troops

Summer is a time filled with patriotic holidays.  Memorial Day, Flag Day on June 14th (which I just learned is also the U.S. Army’s birthday), and, of course, Independence Day/4th of July.

I was raised in a patriotic household.  We were taught to show respect for the flag.  Stand up and place our hand over our heart for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.  Never let an American flag drag on the ground.  I always loved learning about American history, especially the colonial and Revolutionary War era.

We were taught to honor the military. Many of my family members served in World War II.  This blog is named for my great-uncle George, who was so convicted of the need to fight that he went to Canada and joined the Royal Air Force before the United States even entered the Second World War.  My mom is proud to share a birthday with the U.S. Marine Corps. (November 10th, in case you were wondering.)

My interest in history and my involvement in performing arts came together in the selection of a topic for my senior thesis in college.  I wrote about the founding and the importance of the USO in World War II.  For those of you who may not be familiar, the USO stands for the United Service Organizations.

It was originally a conglomeration of six religious and charitable organizations that joined together to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support for the military.  There were USO canteens and centers, mostly at transportation sites where service members could write letters, take a shower, nap, drink coffee or have a conversation with a USO hostess.  These centers also hosted dances and social events for the military.

Bob Hope-USO
Bob Hope entertains troops in WWII. Source: Wikipedia.

There was also the Camp Show side of the USO that performed for the soldiers both domestically and overseas.  Some of the performers included Hollywood luminaries like comedian/actor Bob Hope and the singing group, The Andrews Sisters.  The USO still provides support and entertainment for our military to this day.

I had just turned 11 years old when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place.  Growing up in a post-September 11th world amidst ensuing security concerns and the subsequent and on-going war on terror, I think awareness of what it means to be an American and respect for our troops have definitely played more prominent roles in my life than they possibly would have otherwise.

One of the main post office buildings in my hometown is named in memory of a school classmate of my brother’s.  This friend was a Marine who died fighting in Iraq in 2004.  He was a faith-filled, honorable young man.

As a I grow older, my support and gratitude for the military only continues to deepen and become more personal.

As we all know, summer is also wedding season.  This June, I was honored to be a bridesmaid in two weddings of very close friends.  One of my friends married a former Marine and the other married an active-duty member of the Navy.

The latter friend’s wedding included all the pomp and circumstance of the military, such as the sabre arch under which the newly married couple walked upon exiting the church as well as the ceremonial cake cutting with a sword.

Let me tell you: the patriotic, hopeless romantic in me was eating all of this up.  I challenge any red-blooded American woman not to feel at least a twinge of a heart-flutter when she first sees a man in uniform.  They just look so dang sharp.

But I digress…

On a more serious note, meeting, celebrating, and dancing with these guys at the wedding and knowing they are all serving our nation made things more real, more personal. I consider my friend’s now husband also one of my friends.

My friend is now a military wife.  She will be experiencing all the unique challenges, joys, and fears of that role.

I half-jokingly told one of my friends/fellow bridesmaids that now all these guys  are on my worry list and prayer list.

But seriously…

Do we really stop and think about the sacrifices of the military and their families?  We cannot and must not be indifferent.

They are volunteering to go fight, knowing the life-threatening dangers they will be facing, while many of their peers are clamoring for “safe spaces” on college campuses in order to hide from anyone or anything that might offend them or challenge their opinions.  Quite the dichotomy.

Yet they can protest and call for safe spaces because of our military-protected freedom.

“Land of the free because of the brave.” Some may think it sounds cheesy but it is true.

And how are we using that hard-won freedom?  Are we using it responsibly, working for the common good? Do we engage with our political opponents respectfully or do we resort to mean-spirited, personal attacks?

Do we show respect when the National Anthem is played?  Do we proudly display the American flag? Do we learn the true history of our country, warts and all, appreciating the good while learning from the mistakes? Do we remember our troops and their loved ones in our prayers?

Do we thoughtfully and actively participate in the voting process?  Could we perhaps donate our time or our money to a worthy organization that supports the military?  Do we thank service members when the opportunity presents itself?

How can we be more patriotic and self-sacrificial Americans?

To all veterans and active-duty service members and to your families and loved ones: THANK YOU!!!  Americans can never adequately express the debt of gratitude we owe to you.  God bless and protect you all!

American soldiers
Photo credit unknown.