I want to start by saying thank you to each and every one of you that have served/are currently serving our nation. Even if you don't read my rambling below, and I totally wouldn't blame you, know that you are loved and appreciated and valued. Though you do not receive the recognition you deserve because no amount would be sufficient, you are a hero in the eyes of so many. You have done what most of us could not, would not, and sacrificed your own life to defend the United States of America. Please stand tall and always remember that you are the reason millions of people get to live in the greatest country on the face of the Earth. Our freedoms didn't come free, and you have paid the price for our liberty. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Both of my grandfathers served in the United States Army after WWII. It's hard for me to imagine that as young, barely twenty-year-old boys, they left their families to take a boat across the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. My Papaw Clayton, my Mom's Dad, missed the first year of my Mom's life while he was serving our country in Korea. He saw my Mom for the first time just before she turned one year old. Thinking back to our first year with Bear, Zach and I soaked up every single moment. Every first: the coos, rolling over, sitting up, that first word, crawling, walking; I can't even imagine having missed everything that happened during Bear's first year. Despite being very close to my grandparents, I never heard Papaw Clayton talk about missing that first year; in fact I think I only learned of it after he passed away four years ago. To him, it wasn't a sacrifice. It was what he was called to do, and he did it without complaint. I never saw anyone shake his hand and thank him for his service, or ask him about his time overseas. If someone in the family prompted him, he'd tell us stories (some in which I'll never forget). But he didn't boast or think he was any kind of a hero. And that's exactly why he is.
My older brother left for the United States Military Academy at West Point the summer before I started high school. On a Division 1 golf scholarship, he could have had his pick of stellar universities. West Point was his first choice, despite the worry of our family and the 1,800 mile distance from the only home he'd ever known. When most high school seniors were picking out new cell phones and cars in the spring of 2001, he was getting ready to leave civilian life behind for a cause greater than most of us can imagine. He wanted to actively make a difference. To aid this nation in sustaining what has been the greatest democracy in the world, when most of us will only sit back and complain about the current presidential election. My big brother has been all over the world serving our country, and last year became the youngest Major in the entire Army. Chances are Major Mercer doesn't read this blog, but I think his wife, my sweet-sister-in-law might. She too knows the meaning of sacrifice, and living a life one might not ideally choose in order to greater benefit the lives of many. So Scarlett, if you're reading this, I love you and cannot thank you enough for your choice in serving and supporting this nation.
When I start to think about what patriotism truly means to me, I can only think of those I know who have lived and breathed the definition of it. The dictionary definition is devoted love, support, and defense of one's country. I consider myself to be patriotic, and I am beyond proud to call myself a citizen of the United States of America. But I have done so little. True patriotism lies within those who lost their lives on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. True patriotism lies within the high school senior that enlists in the United States Air Force when all his friends are going to frat parties. True patriotism lies within the mother of three young children who's husband is deployed to Afghanistan for two years. Her children will weep not understanding why Daddy is gone, and she'll muster up strength she never knew she had.
Patriotism, to me, is the pride I have in my brother and grandfathers. It's the awareness I have that the freedoms I enjoy daily came at the fatal cost of innocent soldiers, fighting for you and for me. Patriotism is not only the devoted love for one's country, but also the understanding of all the sacrifices made to keep that country going. My grandfather missed the first year of his daughter's life so that I wouldn't have to miss a minute of the first year of my son's life. Our military give us cause to be patriotic, and we owe them the utmost respect, loyalty, and allegiance. It is because of these brave men and women that we live the way we do and exercise the freedoms we so often take for granted. I'm proud to be an American, and I'm even more proud of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that I can say those words.