“I Saw America Today”

As many of you know, I was in the Navy for seven years. This continues my family’s tradition of military service; my dad retired from the Air Force after 20 years, and both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family have members who served honorably throughout the years. The same goes for my wife’s family.

I received the following from my parents the other day. Naturally, I checked its veracity and it looks legit. They also included a note:

I thought of you as I read this and how many times I have thanked God that you and your father both came home safe. God bless you son and thank you for all you did to help make this country as safer place for all of us. Words can never express how proud of you we are and how much we love you.

The note included my wife as well:

Thank you for being the person you are and for standing by our son while he served his country. You have a special place in our hearts and you always will. You are more than a daughter-in-law, you are a daughter and a very special part of this family. We love you more than words can express.

After reading the following letter, which strikes me more as a poem than anything else, I felt a bit reinforced on a position that I’ve had for a long time. There are people in today’s American landscape that stand on either side of the actions in the Middle East, driven by the politics, logistics, and realities of war. While most people I’ve encountered, regardless of their stance on the war, have shown support for the people engaged there, I’ve debated with a few who can’t distance the two. For them, military action and the military itself are one and the same, and to support the troops is to support the actions they take.

It would be easy to dismiss their claims with a wave of the hand and a quick “if you’ve never served, you’ll never understand.” While certain parts of that are true, I feel it is my duty to help non-veterans understand as much as possible about how the military dynamic works and runs. Monday morning armchair quarterbacking is easy, as are most things with 20/20 hindsight, but the community dynamic is very different from the social dynamic the rest of the world shares.

In reality, the volunteers who serve in uniform are bound by an oath to obey lawful orders. There are methods to review orders if they are questioned, but if a military member disobeys orders deemed lawful upon review, they are punished, and that has repercussions beyond their the absolution of their consciences. After all, most of these brave Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and a punishment that garnishes half a month’s pay for several months could be the difference between their children eating the next week or paying the bills.

I firmly believe that you can support the troops without supporting the war. These brave men and women volunteer to sacrifice upwards of eighteen months at a time away from their families in support of a cause they believe in. Whether or not that cause is just, that level of sacrifice demands recognition.

Furthermore, the poem below reinforces that by detailing an honor guard’s trip to bring a fallen soldier home. Along the way, he encounters people who show their respect for the sacrifice one young man has made, regardless of politics, religion, age, gender, or any other label.

They are Americans first.

One other example of this is the film Taking Chance. If you have the opportunity to watch this powerful film, please do.

“I Saw America Today”

Eric Newman, 30, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded Oct. 14 in Akatzai Kalay, Afghanistan. He married Charidy Newman last year, and was planning to become a state trooper after his career in the military was over. The funeral was held on Saturday, October 24, 2010 with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and several other medals for his exemplary service.

I saw America today.

I was among more than 200 people gathered on the tarmac at the Meridian Air Naval Station to welcome Sgt. Eric C. Newman, 30, of Waynesboro, Miss. home from Afghanistan.

He did not exit to cheers and hugs but was greeted by respectful and women, bikers, policemen, firemen, all in formation riveted their attention as Sgt. Newman disembarked from the plane carrying him.

 He exited in a flag draped coffin, killed in action in Afghanistan.

 The family stood near the hearse and as Sgt. Newman’s casket approached he was greeted by his new wife and his mother as they draped their arms around the casket where their beloved husband and son lay. There would be no married life for the newly married couple and another mother had given her son in the name of freedom.

I saw America today.

The procession formed with a police escort in front leading the hearse carrying Sgt. Newman which was followed by his family, more than 100 bikers, including the Patriot Guard Riders, scores of police officers, firemen, and friends. I rode near the front and I never could see the end of the procession as we rolled over the hills from Meridian to Waynesboro.

I saw America today.

On the 60 mile journey truckers, the big rigs, pulled to the side of the road, exited their trucks and put hand over heart in honor of Sgt. Newman and the American flag. Down the road from one big shiny rig was a humble logging truck, driver standing on the ground, hand over heart.

For sixty miles a mixture of people stood by the side of the road, flag in hand as we rolled past. At every junction where a side road entered there were people. At the overpasses there was always a fire truck displaying a large American flag. Every fire department along the way had their fire truck standing by to honor this young American who gave his life for us.

There was a young Boy Scout, in uniform, proudly saluting Sgt. Newman and the American flags that passed him.

A man in bib overalls stood by a ragged old pickup truck giving honor. Just down the road was a man dressed in suit and tie by his expensive SUV.

Something in the bright blue sky above caught my eye. It was two jet fighter planes flying over the procession, the thoughtful action of fellow soldiers.

I could see a woman kneeling, holding something out in her hands. At first I thought it must be a camera but as I passed I could clearly see it was a folded American flag. Just like the one that was given to my mother when my father died. Yes, it was her way of saying, “I lost a loved one as well.”

I saw America today.

As we left the main road and entered Waynesboro two fire trucks were parked in such a way as to form an arch with a giant American flag suspended between the two.

The streets were lined solid with people. No cars were moving. I observed someone in a wheel chair on the side of the road. When we drew closer I saw several in wheel chairs, some on crutches. They were old, and fragile. They were residents of a nursing home. On down the road there was another group from yet another nursing home, all waving tiny American flags.

As we wound our way through town hundreds of people lined the sides of the streets. We passed an elementary school. The children lined the fence three deep, most with flags, some with red, white, and blue balloons which were later released.

Next we passed the high school. Again the students respectfully lined the streets adjacent to the school. All were standing respectfully in honor of Sgt. Newman.

And did I mention the yellow ribbons? They were on trees, mailboxes, fences, and anywhere people could place them.

I saw America today.

When we had finished the escort all the bikers were asked to meet at the First Baptist Church of Waynesboro. There they gathered us up and escorted us to the Western Sizzlin’ where the people of the town treated us to lunch for doing something of which we were proud to be a part.

Today, I saw America and I’m proud to be an American. God bless America.

Rod Smith, Patriot Guard Rider

October 21, 2010

Laurel, Mississippi

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4 thoughts on ““I Saw America Today”

  1. ‘Taking Chance’ and the stories behind it touch me deeply. If I could be out there serving alongside them, I would. I think it’s very important that people remember the sacrifices that the men and women of our armed forces make every day – and sometimes its the ultimate one – giving their life to protect those back home.
    I really wish that people could see THAT part of the military, and not just the part that makes them angry that we are involving our country in another’s concerns.
    Fair winds and following seas….

  2. Hear, hear.
    I only served in ROTC officially, but I was born into the military and unofficially, alongside my mother and my siblings, I’ve served all my life.
    My father served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. He was, in fact, the average age of nineteen when he went to the jungle. He was aging when he went to the desert. My father holds a Bronze Star and he was an early member of the Gunfighters, who made our planes better. I’m proud of this and always will be. I’m proud of my grandfather, whose brother died at Pearl Harbor and who served in North Africa himself. In short, I’m proud to be a military brat, and I wouldn’t trade my heritage for the world, despite its issues.

  3. ‘Taking Chance’ and the stories behind it touch me deeply. If I could be out there serving alongside them, I would. I think it’s very important that people remember the sacrifices that the men and women of our armed forces make every day – and sometimes its the ultimate one – giving their life to protect those back home.

    I really wish that people could see THAT part of the military, and not just the part that makes them angry that we are involving our country in another’s concerns.

    Fair winds and following seas….

  4. Hear, hear.

    I only served in ROTC officially, but I was born into the military and unofficially, alongside my mother and my siblings, I’ve served all my life.

    My father served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. He was, in fact, the average age of nineteen when he went to the jungle. He was aging when he went to the desert. My father holds a Bronze Star and he was an early member of the Gunfighters, who made our planes better. I’m proud of this and always will be. I’m proud of my grandfather, whose brother died at Pearl Harbor and who served in North Africa himself. In short, I’m proud to be a military brat, and I wouldn’t trade my heritage for the world, despite its issues.

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