The Fourth of July in Clarksville

Yesterday, I marched with my American Legion brothers in the Fourth of July parade in Clarksville, Maryland—a town that’s about as middle-America as you can get. I came away with a series of strong impressions.

First, I was struck by how many people in the crowd were not Anglo-Saxon standard Americans. More than half of them bore the racial hallmarks of Asia, Africa, and central-south America. There they were, the blacks, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Koreans, the Mexicans and other Hispanics—all as American as I am. They dressed in red, white, and blue, waved flags, and shouted “Happy Fourth of July!” More than ever before, I saw and celebrated American diversity.

Second, I must have heard bystanders shout a hundred times, “Thank you for your service.” These were ordinary, everyday Americans grateful to veterans for defending the country we all love. I waved back at them with tears in my eyes.

Third, for the most part, the men and women I was marching with were, like me, veterans long past retirement age. The march of several miles was not easy for them. Part of the way was uphill. It was hot and muggy. The sweat poured. I heard jokes about people wringing out their shirts when they got home, but I heard not one complaint. Nobody quit because the march was too hard or long or hot.

So I got a dose of what we Americans are like these days—diverse, aware of the sacrifices of veterans, and tough. What we all, veterans and people on the sidelines alike, shared was our patriotism. Once again I’m reminded of why the United States of America is worthy of our love.

For years after the fall of Saigon, when I came back sick and shattered by defeat, I yearned with all my heart to hear my fellow Americans say “Thank you. And welcome home.” Instead, I was treated like a pariah. But people change, and the younger generation, who wasn’t even alive when Saigon fell, sees our sacrifice for what it was. Now we are honored. And I am more moved than words can express.

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