"My native country, thee, land of the noble free, thy name I love."
- From "America,"
by Samuel F. Smith
Although the child in me still thrills to a fireworks display - like the indescribable mixture of color and technology over Fort Gordon's Barton Field a few nights ago - nothing stirs my patriotism quite so much as contrasting life in this country with that of other lands I've visited or, for a time, called home.
I'll never forget my first visit to Berlin, Germany in 1968, seven years after an ugly metal, mortar, and barbed-wire wall sliced the former (and now current) German Capital city in two, and six years before our military family went there to live.
Devised by power-hungry leaders who feared a massive intelligence drain to the West, the Berlin Wall would dominate a gallant people's lives for another 21 years. My fellow tourists and I could find no words to describe our initial horror at that freedom-robbing, death-studded sight.
"Sit down! Don't move until I say so!"
We weren't soldiers under the heavily armed guard's control, nor prisoners in his care. We were passengers waiting to disembark at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Earlier, flight attendants had warned us not to move from our seats until a security guard boarded the aircraft and determined it was safe to deplane, but impatient or inattentive passengers had disobeyed the warning and provoked the guard's roaring command.
In 1976, while most of the country celebrated our grand Bicentennial, I was sitting with 75 other Americans in a hotel conference room in Ankara, Turkey. I had gone there to take part in a spiritual retreat for this isolated segment of our military family. By isolated, I don't mean only by geography but, for that interim in their lives, separated from the liberty the U.S. Constitution guarantees all its citizens.
Those were unusual times for Americans in that part of the world. Because of Turkey's ongoing dispute with Greece over the Island of Cyprus, and what the Turks considered a swing in U.S. loyalty toward their hostile neighbor to the north, Turkey had seized control of all American bases on their soil.
Although our personnel were not in danger, it was against Turkish law at that time to fly the American flag anywhere in the country.
During the final evening of the retreat a young Air Force wife from Georgia, dressed in red-white and blue, read a stirring tribute to her beloved, unseen flag. Soon the sweet but dramatic speaking voice flowed almost imperceptibly into a soft, clear rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." When she reached the well-known "Glory, glory, hallelujah." chorus, 75 members of that Republic sprang to their feet and wept openly as they swelled a single, soprano sound into a deafening fortissimo. (And 29 years later, as I recall that moving experience, I'm weeping again.)
To paraphrase another patriotic song, "This - America - is MY Country!" No drab, war-ravaged landscape, this land is my land from the clover-lined highways in the East to the orange, Indian-paintbrush carpeting of the Southwest; from the dense, black-green forests of Appalachia to the deep canyons and iridescent Rockies of the West; and from the sparkling, white birch and snow of a wintry North, to the early, variegated blooms of a southern spring.
"My country - America - 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty," where no one erects walls to keep us in or out, escorts us off planes at the point of a gun or prohibits flying the glorious symbol of our land.
"Long may our land be bright, with freedom's holy light; protect us by thy might, great God, our King!"
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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