Saturday, June 23, 2007

Proud to Be an American

I think people generally regard me as funny, maybe obsessed with mindless pop culture, like Britney Spears’ meltdown or Katie Holmes’ new bob. But I also care about my family, and maybe my fascinations with the cult of celebrity and Project Runway are just coping mechanisms to more serious concerns about my loved ones.

My brother John has long been a member of the National Guard. Today he leaves for training and then he’ll be shipped off to the Middle East, where he could be stationed for up to 18 months. That’s a long time for anyone, especially a family man with three small children back home in Nebraska.

My family has a history with the military. Grandpa Worick met his much younger bride (my grandmother) while serving in World War I. My dad’s poor eyesight (which my brothers and I have all inherited) made him ineligible for the Armed Services.

But my brother Chris caught the bug early, building tank dioramas of Rommel (the Desert Fox) in the basement. He’d rappel off the side of the bruderhaus, a rundown shed behind my grandparent’s farmhouse. I joined him, scampering up the pussy willow tree and propelling myself off the side of the ramshackle building, secured by ropes.

Chris joined the Army immediately after graduating from high school and put in 20 years before retiring. He served in Operation Desert Storm and married Monika, who, like my grandfather, he met while stationed in Germany.

John joined the Navy as soon as he graduated. I don’t think he was enamoured of the life the way Chris was; rather, he saw it as an opportunity to get away from Michigan and move toward something else. He was mostly stationed out of Norfolk on an aircraft carrier and sent me gifts from all over the world.

Meanwhile, I was kicking around the idea of applying to a military academy but the physical fitness part sort of squelched that. Well, that and the idea of wearing a drab uniform and sensible shoes.

After he got out of the Navy, John remained active with the National Guard, largely for financial reasons. Working on the railroad all the livelong day doesn't pay all the bills.

My mom loves America too, doing her part by participating in her local American Legion and its women's auxiliary. She dons white gloves for parades, coordinates silent auctions, and decorates the foyer at the Post with seasonal displays and flags adorned with small yellow ribbons. I'm jaded but I can't laugh at it all. "Proud to Be an American" isn't just mom's favorite song; it's her way of life. When her father, my Grandpa Hamlin, passed away last December, he was honored with a military burial for his service in the National Guard back in the ’40s. I was completely taken off guard when I lost it during "Taps."

I love America, and I love my brother. I hope both are kept safe.

Meanwhile, I’ll go back to wondering which starlet is going to flash her bits and pieces next. My money’s on Mischa Barton.

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