Ordinary Americans, Extraordinary Patriots

William McGinnis

Patriots are you, me, and thousands of others like us standing firm for America.

You may think since this is about ordinary people, turned patriots, I won’t be mentioning the great patriots of the past. But, those patriots, the great names we immediately think of when we hear the word patriot, were ordinary people too. Ordinary people, who let their patriotism lead them to extraordinary actions. Think of a patriot. Did you think of yourself? You should have. Because patriots are you, me, and thousands of others like us standing firm, and sometimes fighting and dying for freedom, for a nation. Whether it is a debate in the halls of Congress, a religious gathering, or an outing to a little league game, freedom is everywhere in our land—given to us by the patriots of the past. Hopefully insured by the patriots of today and tomorrow.preferred a peaceful, uneventful life in the "pursuit of happiness." But, as is often the case, history had other plans.

The members of our military have always been looked upon as our most zealous patriots. But, again, they were, and are, only ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. From the icy winter at Valley Forge when Washington’s troops were freezing to death, leading the discouraged General to tell his diary, "Such is my situation, that if I were to wish the bitterest curse upon my enemy this side of the grave, I would put him in my place with my feelings," to the trenches of Europe the jungles of Korea and Vietnam, and the blast furnace of Desert Storm, they were just rank and file Americans plucked out their ordinary lives and thrust into the ugliness of war. Washington certainly would have preferred sitting next to a warm fire at his plantation beside the Potomac, instead of freezing in a tent on the battlefield. The "Doughboys" of World War I dreamed of being home with their sweethearts and families, roaring into the twenties in that new fangled contraption, the automobile. The "G.I.’s" of World War II longed to dance the night away with their own special pin-up girl while Glenn Miller played and Bing Crosby crooned.

Troops in Korea and Vietnam would much rather have preferred eating hamburgers at the local drive-in, instead of rations in a snake-infested rain forest, and pilots over "the Gulf" probably would have liked skimming a speed boat across some mirror-surfaced lake, much more than skimming a few hundred feet above the dunes, peppered with enemy fire. But, because of patriotism in their hearts, love for their country, and conviction that all people should be free, even to disagree, they stepped out of their "ordinary" lives, stood tall,and served.

Patriotism and the military go hand-in-hand lending much to our Country’s fabric. But, patriotism on the homefront and during peacetime is the true backbone of our national pride and spirit. Tradition has it that Memorial Day observances began during the Civil War, when southern women selected a spring day to demonstrate their patriotism by decorating the graves of their fallen loved ones. During that conflict of Brother against Brother, once again, ordinary people put aside their daily lives to pick up the sword of patriotism for what they thought was a just and upright cause.

In more recent times, sacrifices to patriotism on the homefront have ranged from the women, children and elderly who cheered for the boys "over there," to the losses suffered by the wives and families of those killed during recent military operations abroad and, closer to home, in the everyday grind of the so-called "Drug Wars."

We have talked of revolutionary heroes, soldiers in the world’s wars and conflicts, and it all fits neatly into the history books. But, patriotism is anything but crusty, dusty history. It’s not something that should be tucked away in our museums. Patriotism should be a living thing. It should go far beyond political rallies, parades, and fireworks on Independence Day. It’s something that should be alive in our hearts and active in our lives, everyday. As Washington put it in a letter to his friend Benjamin Franklin in 1789, "If to be esteemed for patriotism can gratify the human mind, you must have the pleasing consolation of knowing that you have not lived in vain." The people we have spoken of here, these "ordinary people," have not lived, or died in vain. For through their unswerving patriotism, and steadfast loyalty to our Nation, they have given the gift of freedom to us all, and what a precious gift it is.

Fortunately, the outlook for patriotism is very good in our country, not to mention the many formerly oppressed nations getting their first taste of freedom because of their own patriots. The "flower children" and the "peace" generation have grown up, and surprisingly, they are, for the most part, fiercely patriotic. In a Nation of computers, the space shuttle and hostile takeovers, we have rediscovered our love for the Flag, Mom & apple pie, and patriotism. Can you believe it? Patriotism is "in" again. But it was really there all the time, a flame kept burning by some very ordinary people, just like you and me.