Although the British might take note, it’s just another day on the calendar for most of the world. Here on American soil, the date is without doubt the most well-known date in the history of the United States.
Children hear the words and experience the celebration long before they come to understand the significance. They hear the Declaration of Independence without quite knowing what a declaration is or what independence means.
They might hear explanations at home, where it’s almost impossible to explain patriotism to a child without mentioning war, and detailed lessons in a classroom might fill in some blanks, but with all its appeal — the parades, the music, the parties — we must admit that we’ve lost the patriotic fervor that past generations exhibited. Patriotism seems to have taken on dual definitions.
I may be missing something, but it appears to me that we tend to fly the flag, figuratively and literally, during times of war and crisis, but forget about our allegiance when things are going well.
Patriotism, much like prayer, should be constant. But instead of a way of life, an integral part of our daily life, we take the flag out of storage on selected days such as national emergencies and holidays, forgetting what it means day in and day out. After all, in and of itself the flag is not freedom or liberty, apple pie or motherhood. It is a symbol, an image meant to inspire, to cause us to think about those things that, as a nation, we hold dear.
With some misgivings I must admit that patriotism has too often been connected to war. That explains the patriotism of my generation, born and reared during World War II, indoctrinated as children to be proud to be American and to be reverent in our expressions.
We learned the pledge to the flag as it was worded then and we were taught the manner of reciting the pledge. We learned The Star-Spangled Banner and knew to stand immediately when we heard it. At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, Armistice Day, we observed a moment of silence in honor of the signing in 1918 of the peace treaty ending World War I.
We looked up to men in uniform. We learned to salute correctly. We memorized poems. We knew the words and melodies of the songs for each branch of service. We recognized Franklin D. Roosevelt’s voice. We listened with dread to radio newsmen H.V. Kalterborn, Eric Sevareid and Edward R. Murrow. We knew the meaning of the banners with stars hanging in windows. We knew about ration stamps and savings bonds.
The battles were far away, but the message at home was clear. Our nation had to be united, and our patriotism unquestioned. As I became an adult and as our country fought other battles, I didn’t see that measure of allegiance. Methods of war changed, and peace continued to be elusive.
Often our people were not united, but we somehow persevered. Sometimes we had leaders who wanted to wage peace instead of war. Their efforts were not always successful, but the seeds were planted nonetheless.
Embedded in our psyche, red, white and blue translates to patriotism. And music-wise, while “America the Beautiful” and “I’m Proud to be an American” bring us to our feet, I’ve noticed at times that folks don’t seem to recognize our national anthem and sometimes have to be prompted to stand.
Why is this? Have we forgotten that the song about our flag demands the same respect as the flag itself? It’s easy to admit that it’s harder to sing (and to listen to) than “God Bless America” or “My Country ‘tis of Thee” which we sort of stole and rewrote for our own country. But England had first dibs, and today their version continues to be their national anthem.
It all boils down to the individual. The celebration on Friday should be our best expression of the feelings we have for our nation. On this one day, we can be of one accord. We can remember with pride those times of jubilee. We can come together in support of our citizens who even now are in battle.
We can fly our flags and keep time with our bands. And in the days to come, we can keep the faith with renewed enthusiasm.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.