Editor's note: The following column is the fifth in an eight-part series about "What's right with America" that will appear in the pages of the Roundup through July 4. The author, Stan Brown, is a local historian, a columnist for The Rim Review and a retired minister. This series reflects his take on the implications of freedom in America.
What's right about America? Freedom is right about America. The freedom to give our lives if need be so that our children can live free.
Twice tears overflowed my eyes during my pilgrimage to our nation's capitol once as I approached the Capitol building, that symbol of freedom and democracy set upon a hill, and again at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As we walked around the building that houses the medals and honors awarded to the men and women of the armed services who were lost in action, we emerged on the precipice of the hill. There was that plain, square tomb where the Unknown Soldiers from a number of wars lay at rest. To our backs was the home of General Robert E. Lee, whose estate was taken after the Civil War and turned into this cemetery. Ahead, we looked across the Potomac River toward the Capitol City. In the distance was the Washington Monument, like a needle piercing the sky. Looking closer, we could see the monuments to Lincoln and Jefferson, the Capitol itself, and the marvelous symmetry of the malls.
Here it was quiet. Clusters of visitors huddled, silent and awed. The guard, in full dress uniform, marched methodically along the length of the plaza, stopped and turned half way, stood motionless for a full minute, then completed the turn to solemnly march back again.
Why was I crying? We had lost my wife's brother Tom in North Africa during Patton's pursuit of Rommel's German army in 1942. Those had been most sorrowful days. The official declaration of Tom's death after one year missing in action, the return of his few belongings, his baby daughter whom he had only seen once, the gold star in the window, the shrine his father had made of his only son's room.
Tom's remains were never found. He was one of the unknown soldiers, and the grieving welled up in me again.
But something more powerful than grief was there to draw my tears. It was joy and thanksgiving for the freedom that made the sacrifice these people had made worth it all. Their grave markers stretched all around us through the wooded estate. Before us was this symbol of those who had lost everything, even their identity, to preserve our most precious gift freedom.
What is right about America? Freedom is right about America. The freedom to lay down our lives for each other if called upon to do so. Such a sacrificial lifestyle requires a fundamental belief in the value of freedom, no matter how hard life becomes as we live together in America.
In 1929 the bottom fell out of the world for most Americans. Suddenly, our people were familiar with bread lines, and scavenging for dandelion greens and picking up coals along the railroad tracks. The Great Depression lasted 10 years.
I was too young at 4 years of age to understand why we moved in with my grandparents in 1932. It was fun living in the old house and sleeping in the same room my mother had when she was growing up. People didn't know how badly off they were those days because everyone was in it together.
There was time for love and support, and homemade games and happy childhood days. Parents hid the problems from their children, and everybody cared for everybody else. Freedom did not crash with the stock market or close down with the banks.
My father lost his job as a salesman. He found a job with a collection agency. When that job also folded up, and he was told to turn in the company car, he wrote them with an offer.
"I can't get another job anyway, so let me work for you for nothing. You pay me only my expenses and let me use the company car."
They accepted his offer, and then voluntarily paid him $25 a week. That was good money, since those who had a job at all were averaging $16.21 as a weekly wage.
As Hitler prepared to plunge the world into a dark night of hell, America was ready. Perhaps not ready militarily, but she was ready spiritually. Her soul had been cleansed and her character made strong in the purifying fires of the depression.
What's right about America? The willingness to sacrifice our lives in many ways for the cause of freedom.