Every Veteran's Day, I make it a point at some point to watch "Saving Private Ryan." For some reason to me, the end of the movie, with an elderly James Francis Ryan looking over the grave of Captain Miller, who died trying to preserve Private Ryan's is very moving, as is Captain Miller's last words to Private Ryan, "earn this."
There seems some universality to this message that is hard to lose sight of, and that is that Private Ryan represents all of us Americans. We should seek to earn what our brave soldiers have provided for us by being the best citizens possible. What entails being a good citizen? I suppose alot of things. One thing I don't believe being a good citizen, is being a rubber stamp for any ideology or party. I believe the least we can do, despite our busy schedules is to take seriously our role as the "deciders" when it comes to elections. It means, we have no excuse not to know who our elected officials are and what they are doing. Is it easy? Heck no. But it is a heck of alot easier than dislodging the Wehrmacht's 352nd Division from their stout defences on Omaha beach.
Part of being a good citizen is understanding basic civics and American history. I think a real appreciation for our country, warts and all, comes from understanding where we have been, what mistakes we have made, and what progress we have made correcting those mistakes. When we say we are proud to be an American, there should be some tangible, authentic reason for that pride, not base tribal and national identity like we are just as likely to have to our alma mater's football team.
Part of being a good citizen also entails having the tolerance to find good in imperfect Americans, but the courage to challenge imperfect ideas that may have wide followings among Americans. Courage also applies to a willingness on our part to discard our own ideas when careful scrutiny shows their fatal flaws.
Being a good citizen also entails a sincere attempt at being law abiding. I'm not implying that anyone who has broken the law, from jaywalking through more serious offences cannot be a good citizen. All of us our flawed, but a desire to be law abiding, being honest with our taxes, and helpful to our fellow Americans is something we all should aspire to do.
Now, let me touch the sensitive subject of military service. Admittedly, I come from a long line of civilians, my grandfather barely missing out on World War I, my father barely missing Korea, and I being too young for Vietnam. I have to go back to the American Revolution where my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather Samuel Boynton fought the British to find a direct ancestor. (Of interest, an even farther back ancestor, Edmund Beaufort, was blamed for the loss of the hundred years war in the 1400's). But I've toyed with the idea of some sort of mandatory military or civilian service. One reason for this, has been a propensity of individuals with no personal stake in a war, seeming to promulgate such wars. Most of my close relatives openly supported the Iraq war, but their sons and daughters served LDS missions, not our overstretched military. I like President Obama's idea of providing education assistance for public service.
A few years ago, while visiting the Gettysburgh battlefield, I remember looking down from Little Round Top to the Devil's Den (See picture at top of this blog) and was moved at what transpired there. General Sickles blundered by sending his Corp into a vulnerable salient, that ultimately, and accidentally saved the day on Gettysburgh's second day of battle. The bloody fighting in that salient gave just enough time for other troops to arrive at the spot I was standing upon at Little Round Top and prevent the Confederates from turning the Union left flank. After the battle, Sickle's old Corp., was so battered and weakened, it had to be merged with another corp. The troops in Sickle's corp didn't ask to go into that vulnerable salient and ultimately lose the bulk of their comrades in arms. But they did their duty. Some times we disagree with the decisions made as far as whether to go into battle, or whether the battle should have been fought the way it was. But in the end, we should never lose sight of the sacrifices of the men and women who did their best, regardless of the circumstances.
To the Veterans out there, I salute you all and say thank you. For those who have lost loved ones serving our country, a thank you sounds inadequate. What I can offer you and the loved ones you lost, is my most sincere attempts at being a good citizen who has earned their sacrifice. I may never get there because your loss is too heavy and my own faults too many. But in the end, that is all any of us non-Veteran citizens have to offer.