Thankful to be an American

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 5, 2005

Selma Times-Journal

Columnist’s Note:

A week from today is September 11, the anniversary of the infamous day known worldwide as “9-11.” It is the day that many Americans first became aware of our vulnerability, as well as the day we encountered terrorism face to face. It has become the definitive day of the glory of living in this great land. And it awakens for me the memory of a day spent in a foreign land, a day when I truly realized how fortunate I am to be an American.

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We spread futons and tatami mats on the coarse beach grass growing sparsely in widely separated clumps on the top of the bluff. Far below, lacy edges of Tokyo Bay’s salty waters lapped against the rocky shoreline bordering the Bluff Area of Yokohama, a housing area for families of NATO forces. Behind the gathering crowd of military wives and children (our husbands had been ordered back to Korea, when peace talks stalled), banners of rose and gold flung themselves across the evening sky, as the last rays of the slowly setting sun sank into the dark waves. Before them, like a giant movie screen, the great bluff continued its rocky rise skyward.

Excitement grew as the day disappeared into the velvety darkness above the bay. Children ran and shouted and squealed in play, reluctantly settling down only after repeated calls from their mothers or an attentive nursemaid. Voices were hushed and footsteps of late comers softened as time for the celebration neared, then sounds dropped to a subdued murmur and silvery notes of a trumpet pealed forth.

“O, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at twilight’s last gleaming?”

The crowd stilled, rose to its feet in a single wave of motion, and with one mighty swelling chorus, sang the national anthem of their native land. Tears ran unchecked down cheeks, hearts swelled with pride and for a little while America was less than half a world away from that foreign shore.

Our Independence Day celebration ended, as almost all festive events did in our host country, with a magnificent fireworks display, climaxed by a sparkling facsimile of Niagara Falls that shimmered the width of

Tokyo Bay. The finale filled the sky in a burst of red, white and blue, star-studded ripples of the American Flag, accompanied by the

poignant notes of the trumpet reminding all present of the fact that:

“America, America, God shed his grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”

I have never forgotten that evening, now

half a century ago. Each time I think of it these words of a favorite poem return to me, and I thank God that I live in this blessed land of room enough, where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars:

“Breathes there the man with soul so dead

Who never to himself has said,

‘This is my own, my native land.’

Whose heart has ne’er within him burned

As home his footsteps he has turned

From wandering on a foreign strand.”

May God continue to bless America.