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As the daughter of a Navy serviceman and a Japanese mother, my thoughts on patriotism usually turn to what I learned from my father. But it’s my mother, who will turn 88 this year, who has taught me so very much about patriotism through her example.

I love this quote by Patrick McHenry, Congressman, NC “Patriotism inspires us. It unites us. It fills our hearts with pride and optimism. And sometimes it brings us to tears. Simple but poignant acts of American patriotism occur every day. They rarely attract headlines but these are the actions that strengthen this great nation – and teach us the true meaning of patriotism.”

This quote reminds me of my mother and her “simple but poignant acts of American patriotism” she showed me throughout my life. Let me share a few of my mom’s acts of patriotism that have inspired me to appreciate the freedoms and privileges I have as an American…

My mom was raised on a farm in Okinawa by a single mother, after my grandfather passed away when she was about 5 years old. When I was a young girl, she told me stories of hiding in the hills during World War ll air raids . She recalled going to the caves of the island at night with her mother and older sisters for protection. They carried lanterns and candles and sat in the darkness until they were sure the planes that had dropped explosives were out of sight and sound and not coming back. They would return to their home late at night, when they felt it was safe.

Post-war living conditions included a depressed economy, a scarcity of food, and jobs that were few and far between. For my mother, an 8th grade education had to suffice; she entered the workforce at what should have been the beginning of her high school years. She learned that the best jobs were found on U.S. bases, and landed her first job on base as a waitress and at 17.

The base provided native Okinawans with an attractive opportunity to work in an air-conditioned facility (island environment included extreme heat and humidity), with free meals, a place to sleep, a way to learn English, and also a wage that paid substantially higher than other local businesses. A whole new world suddenly opened up to my mom. It was as if she’d been rescued from a life that seemed hopeless at times during the war. My mother still speaks with a great sense of gratitude for her work at that impressionable period in her life.

A few years after beginning her work on the base, my parents met. My dad was from Delta, Utah, and served in the Navy for about 10 years at the time. He had been stationed in Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines on various ships. My mom and dad worked together on the base, fell in love, and were married in the early 60s.

My brother and I were both born in Japan, and when my dad had the chance to be stationed in the Pacific Northwest, he submitted a request for transfer. We moved to Bremerton, WA when I was 5 years old.

Growing up, most of my parents’ friends were serving in, or retired from, the military. At least half of the kids in my school had a father who was in the service. The biggest celebrations in our town were Armed Forces Day and the 4th of July. We celebrated both holidays at parades and at military picnic grounds at a local lake for years. As a child growing up in a Navy town, I was taught to love our country, the flag, and hold the highest respect for those who served in the military.

A few years after arriving in America, my mom wanted to become a US citizen. She enrolled in a citizenship class at a local community college and studied (for what seemed like months) for the citizenship test. When she received word that she passed the test, we went to Seattle for the day to witness the swearing in. As a young girl, I don’t think I even began to understand what this meant. It’s hard to wrap my head around my mother’s sacrifice to move to a foreign land and give up her life in Japan, to then become a citizen of my father’s country, all because of her love of family and desire to raise her children in better circumstances than she experienced in Okinawa.

We lived in the U.S. for 7-8 years before my mom went back to visit her family. I think about the enormous offering my mother made for us as a family when moving to the United States, knowing that she would rarely see her mother and siblings again. Communication was difficult then, and radically different than now. FaceTime, texting and email were still decades in the future. Most communication happened by mail. It often took a couple of months to receive mail from overseas, so letters were sporadic. Phone calls were extremely expensive, and only happened once or twice a year.

Over 50 years later, I still remember those conversations. The calls came either very early in the morning or in the middle of the night. My mom would talk to her mother and sisters for about an hour, always in Okinawan or Japanese. Lots of laughter, loud talking and then at the end of the call, a lot of tears when the goodbyes came. It’s difficult for me to even begin to grasp what a selfless act this was for my mom who was the youngest of 7 children.

When my dad passed at 57 (my mom was 54 at the time), I thought she might want to move back to Japan to live. Many people asked me if she would go back. I asked her, hoping that she would say no. It was never even a consideration in her mind. I remember her saying to me, “This is my home.”

Never once have I heard her say anything negative about the United States. Not one complaint. Not one remark in disgust about politics or rights or privileges. My mother’s acts of patriotism shine by her gratitude for the liberty she enjoys here. When I ask my mother why she chose to stay in the U.S. instead of returning to Japan, she always comments about the choices she has here. “So many choices!”

There are many reasons to be disillusioned with America. The injustices, the contention, the violence. Leaders who don’t have much of a moral compass, people in positions of influence who refuse to place their hands over their hearts during the national anthem. I choose instead to look to my mother’s example. She learned to honor America from my father, and from her experience as a young woman in Okinawa.

My mother’s life and simple acts of patriotism won’t ever make headlines, but they have inspired me to teach my children to have a reverence for the flag, our freedoms, our opportunities, and our service men and women. Her simple but monumental acts have strengthened my love for this country in ways that will live in my heart, and hopefully my children’s hearts forever.

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