Steamboat Springs I love patriotism; I always have. I was born an Army brat. It is in my blood.
My great-grandfather rode motorcycles in WWI. My grandfather served in WWII. My father served in Vietnam, my uncle was a paratrooper in Vietnam, and, most recently, my nephew is serving in the United States Marine Corps and just returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq.
When we came home from Germany, I was 5 years old, and I remember the Fourth of July. My mother explained to my sister and me what Independence Day was. How it was more than just the grand parades or the bright displays of fireworks. I remember her telling us how history had brought us to these "fun" celebrations. At the time, I thought it was boring, but as I grew older, I understood more the sacrifices that have been made for this wonderful country.
I would like to share what Independence Day means to me.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of attending the graduation of my nephew from Kilo Company, USMC, in San Diego. There were more than 600 men of every color, religion and income. They were equals. None was better than any other. They were the picture of perfection in every step they took, every turn of their head, every thundering word said in perfect unison. They had pledged their lives for the safety and freedom of our country. It was awe-inspiring. I was again a member of a tight-knit family.
Last year, I went to Fort Logan Cemetery to visit my father's grave. It was a Saturday afternoon. Again, my sister and I were together. The cemetery is large, and, as always, I needed help finding my way. After getting our bearings, we noticed that a funeral was about to take place. The lady who assisted me told us that this was a full-blown fallen soldier service, and that if we liked, we could attend. We told her thank you, but we would not want to intrude. She told us that all were welcome. There was a horse-drawn caisson, used only for soldiers killed in action. The number of vehicles following the procession was unbelievable. As we were walking along, a man in an Army uniform asked if we would like a ride, and again we declined, not wanting to intrude. A while later we caught up again, and when he said "There is still time for the ride," we accepted. As it turned out, this particular soldier came all the way from Texas to be with this young fallen soldier. He would speak at his service, on behalf of our country. We were nearly in tears. The soldier had been killed in Afghanistan.
To attend this funeral was an honor that I will never forget as long as I live. There was a line of flag bearers longer than I have ever seen, the flag in the cemetery was at half-staff, the 21-gun salute chilled me to the bone, and the bagpipe rendition of "Taps" stays with me today. That experience stirred my patriotic blood more than any fireworks display, or any red, white and blue parade, ever has. This is how America received its freedom. From young men and women who gave their lives so that we may all have the freedoms we enjoy each and every day of ours.
Just more than two weeks ago, I experienced another tremendous gift. After driving 1,800 miles to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to deliver my nephew (the Marine) his truck, my sister and I were again together in an airport in Dallas to catch our connecting flight home. As we were walking toward our gate, we were engulfed in a sea of military uniforms. We asked one soldier whether he was coming or going, and he told us they were leaving for Iraq. They were being deployed that very hour. As a young girl, I remember putting my dad on a bus to leave for Vietnam, but it was nothing like this. There were men and women from the Army and the Navy. The only thing that made them different was their ranks.
There were young men kissing babies, pictures being taken, and children crying because they wanted their daddy. It was as heart-wrenching as the funeral I attended. I watched for an hour as these brave men and women boarded this plane. I sobbed the entire time, thinking I will never take for granted my independence.
If not for these few who give everything without thinking twice, I could not come and go on a plane as I please. I could not attend the church of my choice, I could not send my children to schools of my choice. I could not run my own business or earn my own money. I could not do 100 little things that I have the freedom to do every day. And I could not share this letter with you.
So if you drive by my house and you see the American flag flying every day of the year, and you see the Marine flag flying every day of the year, you will know a true patriot lives there. If you see me on Fridays, and I am wearing red to support my troops, feel free to ask me why I do it, and I will be happy to tell you. If you think I sometimes go too far to obtain goodies to send to Marines at Christmastime, I don't care. These are the smallest of gestures that I can do to show my appreciation of my everyday independence.
This Fourth of July, please remember the sometimes boring parts of history. Look into your family tree, and see who your family hero is. Talk with your neighbors, and ask them about their sons and daughters. They will proudly tell you anything you would like to know. Listen to the stories of a veteran who has given his or her all for us. It really isn't so boring, and it isn't all showy and sparkly. It is real, and it is important. My heroes are the men and women of all of our United States Armed Forces, and I thank them so much for my freedom.
I am eternally grateful.
Cathy Patrick is a Steamboat Springs resident.