Patriotism: A Fiber Woven
by Lou Jirovec

As far back as I can recall I have always been patriotic but never examined truly how and when  the depth of these feelings began. At seven years of age I can distinctly remember December 7, 1941. I wrote the following story for my second grade class approximately fifty years later. December 7, 1941  How well I remember this day, December 7th, 1941. I was only seven years  old when I heard on the radio, our source for news, that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. All of our Navy fleet was there and they were destroyed by the bombs except for a few of them. Many, many men who served our country were killed on this day.
I was living in Panama a place where the canal was considered as a gateway to the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. On my class ring the inscription read,  "The land divided, the world united.”
It was a very important place for the ships to use especially in time of war. We anticipated at the time that the Japanese airplanes were going to fly over to the Panama Canal and bomb it too. On that night of December 7th we were not allowed to turn on any lights because there was a fear that an enemy aircraft could spot even the smallest light.
My Mom and Dad decided to go  over to a neighbor’s house. Several other families had gathered together on this night. As we sat there in the dark we harmonized familiar songs with three ukeles and one guitar accompaning our voices The other neighbors heard us singing as our voices rang through the night, putting a gentle calm over many anxious hearts.
Sometimes, inside of me I can still hear the singing. It just goes on and on.
Those Were the Days...
For many years during the Second World War I observed warships traveling through the Panama Canal, going out to the Pacific all shiny and bright. The sailors uniforms of white added a bit of pride that would well up inside of me as I saw them standing at attention. I’m sure on occasions I would wave to them, at least that is what is in my heart now as I write this.
Later after many months of fighting in the South Pacific, they would return with evidences of “war” upon each ship. Holes would pelt the ships making them look as if a gigantic shotgun had used them for target practice. Some of these holes were at the expense of another patriot’s life as he volunteered his life to be a Kamikaze pilot, a suicide pilot, by diving into the ship with his plane, causing great damage to the ship and a great loss of human lives.
When we got the news on the Zone that the USS Franklin was transiting the canal we all stood by the canal in our individual towns almost in the same manner that we recently experienced in Princess Dianna’s funeral entourage when it would pass by each town with thousands of people lined up along the roadside, only we were lined up along the sides of the canal. We viewed this great ship with a  respectful, silence. There were no waves from my hand this time. . .only a  deep, heartfelt reverence. We had been told that some of the mens bodies were still in the bombed parts of the ship.   Apparently after the ship was bombed it was taking in water and starting to list. Some of the airtight chambers were sealed to prevent the ship from sinking. I wondered how on earth  this ship made it back with such a list to it’s side. The USS Franklin, named after Benjamin Franklin, was affectionately referred to as "Big Ben" or "the ship that would not die". After going through the war in the South Pacific and limping home, but still in tack, it was very appropriately lableled. More Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to this ship's crew than any other ship during WWII.

Yes,  I saw many of the big ships transit through the canal.  After the war when the Wasp, an aircraft carrier, went through, I had been given the privilege of boarding it and transiting the canal on it. In a distance ahead of the Wasp I could see  another aircraft carrier,  the Enterprise. Later on the battleship Missouri transited and docked temporarily for some of us “Zonians” to board it and see the exact spot where the peace treaty was signed between Japan and the United States.
During the war I vividly remember the many ships that came through, the blackouts, and the air raid drills at school. With anxious hearts, when a drill was called, all of the students and teachers  from the first story level which was supported underneath   by concrete pillars, would run down the outside stairs to the  ground level shelter made of sandbags.There we would wait until the “all clear“ signal was given, needless to say, never soon enough for me! Those were scary days for me as a child.
An air raid siren blew  one time while I was at the Gamboa swimming pool. The rules were “stay put wherever you are”. My mom was frantic because she knew the ruling and she was at home. As her eyes glanced across a large field by the swimming pool she could see in a distance a little brown-haired girl running as fast as she could, picking them up and laying them down. I’m sure I ran into her arms for safety.
Each and every one of these events left indelible memories. Who would have thought that a child would be keeping up on the “war effort”? It was critical, and I was! Members of families were being separated as they are in all wars as the men and women enlisted for their country with one common goal--Liberty. My Uncle Marty was one of them. He volunteered at the age of twenty-nine, wore glasses and was flatfooted. He could have easily been rejected but I guess he insisted and was accepted into the United States Marine Corps. We followed his trail in the South Pacific. Time Magazine came out with a picture of Ernie Pyle sitting with a group of marines and we were almost sure that one of them was Uncle Marty. I oftened wondered if my Uncle Marty was on Iwo Jima when the group of marines raised the flag. Maybe he    could he have been one of them that raised it. What was going on in the minds of all of our troups when they saw “Old Glory” being raised?
I was upstairs in my bedroom when the phone rang. Mom answered it and started laughing so loudly that I ran downstairs to find out what was so funny. As I looked at her, I immediately realized that she was not laughing but crying hysterically. I had never seen her cry like that. Between the broken sobs she uttered, “Your....Uncle Marty...has been killed!”
This had to be the distinct point in time. . . that I became patriotic.

A letter followed from the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps:

7 June, 1945

I learn with deep regret that your son, lost his life in action against the enemies of his country. His comrades in the Corps join me in expresssing sympathy to you in your great loss.
Your son fell in combat upholding the best traditions of the Corps, and it is my earnest hope that the knowledge of your son’s sacrifice in the service of his country will comfort you in your bereavement.

Sincerely yours,
A. A Vandegrift,
General, U.S.M.C.,
Comandant of the Marine Corps
Many years later I located the military cemetary, south of San Francisco, where my uncle was laid to rest. On occasions my little boys and I would go and visit it whenever we were in that area. I was awestruck the first time I viewed it in seeing the vast number of white marble tombstones covering the sloping hill. . .standing erect in the bright summer sun. . .in perfect formation, almost resembling in a peculiar sort of a way those sailors in their white uniforms standing at attention as they transited the canal....on board ship.
After acquiring a map at the main office we drove through the cemetary, row after row until we finally located my uncle’s tombstone. With our hands we tried to pull up the grass that had grown up around the base of it and as we delicately placed a bouquet of flowers upon it, I observed in my sons, that same reverence and respect for their uncle. Standing in the middle of the massive expanse of graves they had a keen awareness of the high cost paid for freedom by these “Lovers of Liberty”. Nothing was said, but I believe that this selfsame fiber of patriotism that was imparted to me, made a transfer that day.
This overflow of my fiber of patriotism was released each year as I greeted my new classes each school year for the twenty-nine years to follow. Daily my students would stand at attention with their right hand over their heart to plege allegiance to our flag:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

With each new class in the fall my beginning question would be, “Why do we salute our flag?” After an array of answers that incidentally I would love to hear from the mouths of babes, my story would begin on what liberty truly meant and the high price of human lives that were sacrificed for the freedoms that they now had. With that  “respect for our country’s flag” evolved next in our conversation. In the course of a school year I tried to impart to them my love for my country in the songs we would sing. Each new month would bring a new song to learn...."America the Beautiful"...."This Land Is Your Land", "My Country Tis’ of Thee", and "God Bless America" were just some of them. “Anchors Aweigh” always excited me when I taught it to them because it reminded me of the times our ship would be pulled away from the pier in Balboa by a tugboat, with a band playing this song. Of course the students would  receive a very dramatic description of each song.

A song I dearly loved for obvious reasons was the "Marine’s Hymn". Not only did my students sing it but they knew a   true story about a marine.
In Panama, the Keyes were our next door neighbors and their distant relative wrote the "Star Spangled Banner". When my little first graders learned all of the words of our national anthem in the last month of the school year and could belt it out with such confidence, inside I prayed that this sense of patriotism would last for a lifetime in them as it has in me.

March 20, 2000

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