The Patriotism He Taught Me - by Kathy Wilson Hughes
When I was 13, I was next to my Dad at a small-town rodeo when we stood as a crowd to sing the national anthem. We’d sung it my whole life, but I remember that specific moment really feeling something as we sang. As I looked up, I remember catching a glimmer in his tender eyes, and recognizing that singing this song, for him, meant something deeply significant and special. I remember being moved to tears and not understanding the depth of my own emotions. Someday though, I’d understand.
Growing up, weekends and summers were spent in the country on the outskirts of this small town. My family had built a little homestead-of-a-place in a charming community nestled in a valley at the base of the Rocky Mountains. It was there where we learned to really work and play together, but most of all we learned lessons—life-changing lessons that were memorable for a city girl.
Our little homestead consisted of several smaller buildings that complemented the home and its acreage. One building, a two-story barn, always hung an American flag that was as big as life. As long as I can remember that flag was always there. Only when the flag showed considerable wear and tear would my Dad remove the flag from the building just to replace it with a brand new one. I remember climbing the stairs and leaning out the window to hook the grommets onto the large hooks for hanging. My Dad would instruct us to gently drop the worn flag carefully into the arms of the waiting recipients below. This would insure the flag would not touch the ground. Those at the base would hold the flag carefully and be instructed the proper way to fold a flag into a perfect triangle for storage. I knew this was important but didn’t fully grasp these lessons and observations until years later.
A simple conversation with my Mom one day, lead to a deep understanding of what “America” meant to a man like my father. We grew up knowing our Dad had served our country during the Vietnam War, but it just was not a subject our Dad felt comfortable talking freely about. Over the course of the conversation, I discovered why. My Dad served as 1st Lieutenant in Battalion S1. Among his various responsibilities was the retrieval of the letters and I.D. tags from fallen soldiers. As a Personnel Officer, his job was to personally and properly notify the loss of the fallen soldier’s family that their son, husband, or brother had died in defending our country. It was not an easy task and likely a bit sobering for anyone. This understanding brought a tender perspective into my heart as I considered all the beautiful ways I had been taught patriotism through the years by my father.
As time has gone on, I have come to learn and agree that "true patriotism in not merely a feeling, nor is it a passive belief; it requires active, involved commitment." Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in a talk given on the US Constitution, quoted his favorite prescription for patriotism by Adlai Stevenson…"What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
Dr. Kenneth McFarland, a great non-partisan, national patriot, gave a speech entitled "Selling America to Americans." He told about a young soldier like my father, who returned from Vietnam. In a very serious talk with his parents, the young soldier asked if they loved America. He asked how they felt about this great and glorious nation. Both mother and father got a little teary-eyed and said that they loved this country dearly, that it was more precious to them than their own life. "Why didn't you tell me that when I was growing up?" he said. "I never heard you once say that you loved America. You never taught me to love it. I can't tell you what an ungrateful pup I have been. I had to go to Vietnam to find out what the United States of America is all about. I would gladly lay down my life for it. I would have given anything to know how you felt about it when I was growing up."
Perhaps many of us, like the young soldier, feel as though we don't truly understand or appreciate what it means to love America. Maybe we haven’t been taught. Maybe we aren’t working to feel or even teach patriotism like we should. I admit, with so many negative challenges and problems facing America today, it is sometimes hard to know how to best approach it. But I think it’s something we work for. We read. We study. We research. We read the stories, we sing the songs, and we feel the feelings. And as our appreciation of these things grows, we recognize the need to share what we’ve learned and how we feel with others. We come to realize that there is so much to know and learn and understand…and that it is our responsibility to make these things come alive for our children. Perhaps a spirit of patriotism is as important as teaching and developing a testimony of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Brother Vaughn Featherstone said, "We need to feel again what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. We need to feel the thrill and sensation and the swellings within our bosom about this country.” He continues…"I think it is time we should all awaken. Our concern isn't about the flames of freedom which burn so brightly on our generation; the concern is that in the upcoming generation the fire has never been kindled. Our youth have never known anything but criticism of the United States of America. We need some faithful, free-loving patriots who will issue forth a clear, loud trumpet call. Freedom ought to ring in the heart of every Latter-Day Saint regardless of his country. In a land ‘choice above all other lands’ which the Lord preserved for a righteous people, we must not forget that we teach patriotism in its ultimate sense when we imbue our children with theological truths. Every dinner table conversation that reinforces our commitment to a gospel principle makes all who participate in it better citizens. We learn to love our country as we learn to love righteousness. A child who has a testimony of Jesus Christ, already has a good basis for becoming a patriot."
My Dad’s steady dedication to teach patriotism has instilled a special attitude of understanding for me, one that I have worked hard over the years to instill in my own children. The simplicity of that flag on my Dad’s barn still hanging remains an enduring symbol that faith and freedom should be fostered and taught. Those words we stand to sing at rodeos and ball games can stir deep love for our God and country if we let them. Let’s awaken. Let’s kindle the flames of patriotism in our families. Let’s share how we feel with others. Let’s dedicate our lives to letting freedom ring in all of our hearts. And let’s let it be a testimony that we love and honor Him and all the ways He preserved this promised land for us.
By Katie Wilson Hughes