As I see the Memorial Day resources displayed on blog feeds and Twitter posts, I begin thinking about my own sense of patriotism. I’m grateful for opportunities to celebrate my American heritage. I’m appreciative that I can reflect on patriotism as it pertains to the world at large. And, I honor my grandfather.
American Patriotism Overseas
Hong Kong residents can immediately tell when a ship arrives in town. Give-aways: Buzz cuts, tattoos, cowboy hats.
When I arrived in Hong Kong, I was a bit surprised that US ships were still allowed to dock in post-UK Hong Kong waters. Yet, soldiers released from a military ship (more or less a floating city) inevitably drop large amounts of money into the local economy. Rumor has it that the Chinese army is sequestered on the south part of Hong Kong Island until the ship leaves.
Small shuttle boats transport soldiers from the ship, usually docked a few miles offshore, into Victoria Harbour and to the shores of Wan Chai – a social hotspot. When I see veterans in the states and tell them I live in Hong Kong, their eyes twinkle. They smile and say I remember Hong Kong.
At least two of my students’ families work for the US Consulate General. One parent invited me to a reception on the USS Blue Ridge, a command ship that mostly houses officers who direct battle ships throughout Asia.
Admittedly, the invitation elicited thoughts of a line from Pride and Prejudice where Mary Bennett swoons and says, “A whole campful of soldiers.” For me and my girlfriend, it was a whole shipful of men in uniform – both Navy and Marines.
While at the reception, my friend and I spoke to a Navy officer of Asian descent. As a young child, his mother smuggled him out of the Cambodian killing fields. She handed him over to a stranger who took the boy to America. The boy was adopted by a wonderful family, but grew up not knowing his real birthday.
Schooled in Annapolis, he is now stationed in Japan with his wife and children. He has since been reunited with his biological mother and a brother. HIs Cambodian father is buried somewhere in the killing fields.
Many military personnel tire of party life in port cities. US citizens and other Hong Kong residents can invite sailors for a home-cooked meal as part of the Meals in the Home program.
The US Consulate website describes Meals in the Home as ”a program designed to connect hosts living in Hong Kong with U.S. Navy Sailors while in port. Hosts not only plan a dinner/lunch but often design invites around hiking, local tours, and other Hong Kong highlights. Hosts sign up to share their time and meals as a ‘thank you’ as well as giving the Sailors an opportunity to experience a bit of home away from home.”
One friend and her husband have hosted sailors from many ships that have docked over the past ten years. Some of their visitors have been officers, others enlisted. The meal is a great way to give back to those who fight for freedom in the United States and around the world.
Patriotism in Other Countries
When visiting other countries, especially countries that have been allies in war, I’m struck by the loss of life worldwide. My first Hong Kong apartment was close to the Stanley Military Cemetery. How many such Gettysburg-like cemeteries exist worldwide?
Being married to an Aussie, I’ve participated in Anzac Day memorial ceremonies honoring World War I veterans killed in Gallipoli, Turkey. Each April, the Australian Consulate holds a ceremony at Statue Square in Hong Kong – always at dawn. Bugles play. A solemn crowd listens to Memorial speeches. Wreaths are are placed at the foot of the statue pedestal. All pray. The Australian and New Zealand armies lost over 9,000 soldiers in Gallipoli – two years before America even entered the war.
What About Patriotism in Communist Countries?
One of the greatest challenges to my thinking: How do you react to patriotic displays in countries where citizens have limited freedom?
Story from China
I spent the summer of 2002 teaching English to English teachers in a rural part of China. Since we were teaching adult students, many of them treated us to dinners and cultural experiences in their area. As I was walking in a park with one of my students, he looked at me and said, “I’m so glad we’re free.”
I fumbled for words. Part of my group’s agreement with the local government was that we would not discuss “The Three T’s” (Taiwan, Tibet, Tienamen). All I said was, “Tell me about that.”
He said, “If Chiang Kai-shek had won the revolution, we would be under his control like Taiwan is under his control.” I consciously stopped myself from counting the historical inaccuracies within that statement. For me, the big learning was that this person, like more than two billion others, was proud of his country.
Story from Vietnam
In April 2004, I took a motorcycle trip around Vietnam. I was honored to be traveling with a number of American men old enough to remember the American Conflict in Vietnam – and one of whom was a Vietnam veteran.
We spent a day in Dien Bien Phu, a city most famous as being “The Alamo” of Vietnam’s war with the French – at the expense of the French.
As we walked through the museum (much of which was anti-American), my fellow bikers recounted memories. At some exhibits they said, “Yeah, this is probably right.” At other exhibits, they scratched their heads and said, “Ummm…it might also be said that…”
Many of the old bunkers were still intact. Vietnamese veteran soldiers were there, taking pictures with tourists. As I stood beside the men in uniform, I realized that they were proud veterans – and their families were equally proud of their service to country. Looking at the picture to the left, I can’t help but think of the many families who feel as proud of their soldiers as I feel about my grandfather.
My grandfather, Hyatt Worthy, was shot in France during WWII. He pretended to be dead for three days before being rescued by Allied troops. Mom says Grandpa Worthy never spoke about the war except with his fellow war veterans.
While mom was in college, Grandpa Worthy died of a heart attack caused by blood clots from gunshot wounds that pepper his body.
After watching Saving Private Ryan, Mom said, “I finally get why Dad never talked about the war.”
In the end, I suppose the song Christmas in the Trenches helps explain some of my feelings on Memorial Day. I will always be proud of the men who fought for (and those who currently fight) for the freedom Americans treasure. I also say a prayer for families worldwide who feel for their family members as I feel for my grandfather – no matter the reasons their governments sent them to war.
Who and what do you remember this Memorial Day?
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Some Images are my own. Some are from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Military_Cemetery and http://www.mazh.com/z1/C&P/VN-Dien%20Bien%20Phu%20Cem.htm