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Category Archive: Patriotism

Jun 30

Fourth of July memories– it’s really the patriotism we love, not the potato salad.

(From my archived columns, first published on June 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

fourth-of-july-picnic

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

–Erma Bombeck.

Ah yes, I remember that “iffy” potato salad and the flies, too, at many a Fourth of July celebration of my youth.

The Fourth of July is a happy holiday bringing back delightful memories, but maybe it is more than the family picnics and fireworks that I remember and love.

Maybe it is the patriotism, 1950s style, not the potato salad, that makes it such a happy holiday.

For instance, one of the things I remember most about past Fourth of July celebrations is a television monologue given by the late great comedian Red Skelton in honor of Independence Day.

For younger generations who may not know this, Skelton was a comedian who rose to stardom between the 50s and 70s delighting audiences coast-to-coast with his weekly comedy television show.

After all these years, turns out I remembered very few details about Red Skelton’s then famous “Pledge of Allegiance” monologue. However, I do recall how much I loved his performance at the time.

If you search the Internet, you will find it easily, the YouTube video of Red Skelton’s Pledge of Allegiance, 1950 style.

Skelton tells a story about how his teacher Mr. Laswell of Harrison School in Vincennes, Indiana, felt his students had come to think of the Pledge of Allegiance as merely something to recite, something monotonous.

Mr. Laswell remarked to the students, “If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?” He continued.

“I—meaning me, an individual, a committee of one.

Pledge—dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.

Allegiance—my love and my devotion.

To the flag—our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job!

The United—that means we have all come together.

States of America—individual communities that have united into 48 (now 50) great states; individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that is love for country.

And to the republic—a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it is from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.”

Red Skelton’s entire rendition of Mr. Laswell’s speech is too long for this column.

However, I will share with you here his final admonition to his students, “We are one nation so blessed by God that we are incapable of being divided, which means, boys and girls, it is as much your country as it is mine.”

Yes indeed, it is this kind of patriotism that I love and remember, but not so much the “iffy” potato salad.

Happy Fourth! May it be patriotic and memorable, even if you can’t keep those pesky flies off the potato salad.

May 30

Decoration Day conjures up thoughts of Flanders fields and poppies .

(From my archived columns, first published on June 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

poppy-field-wet-150x150

“Decoration Day” was what we Baby Boomers called Memorial Day when we were growing up, and it was always observed on May 30.

It is very likely that anyone born since 1971 would not know the term “Decoration Day” because Congress changed that when it created the National Holiday Act of 1971.

The three-day holiday weekends, Memorial Day and Labor Day, were born with the Act.  It made good sense for employers, gave folks two three-day national holidays per year, and created an opportunity for family time, travel, and entertainment.

However, one of the these holidays, Memorial Day, seems to have lost some of its meaning in the process.

Now, Memorial Day is more likely associated with the official beginning of summer travel, baseball games, barbecues, and trips to the lake.

And do we not love Memorial Day weekend for all those reasons!

I surely do.

Originally, however, Decoration Day was none of those things, and I can only hope its true meaning is not lost on future generations.

Decoration Day was a time to remember those who died in our nation’s service. Eventually, the holiday grew to be a time to honor all our dead as well.

In that simpler time when there was no urgent need for travel, entertainment or three-day weekends, we set out to decorate the graves of our departed relatives, honored fallen soldiers, and paid tribute to our ancestors on the same day every year, May 30.

Bouquets of iris, poppies, peonies and spirea were lovingly gathered and arranged early in the morning before we set out to visit the cemeteries.

There was no rush to discount stores to buy plastic flowers or sprays for the tombstones then. Instead, we simply went into our back yards and picked our own flowers, arranged them in coffee cans wrapped with foil, and carried them carefully in the car as we drove to the cemeteries. Usually, we visited two or three cemeteries because one would not want to neglect the departed great-grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Nevertheless, the overriding emphasis of Decoration Day was on soldiers lost in battle.

Local VFW and American Legion posts and their auxiliaries offered special programs on each May 30 to remember the servicemen who died for their country.

Churches had memorial services, and school children colored mimeographed pictures of the American flag in a special effort to remember those lost in war.

We sang “God Bless America” with never an inkling of the need for political correctness.

The National Anthem was sung at Decoration Day services, the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and no one objected.

May 30 was a reverent day that made us reflect and appreciate those who had gone before us and who had died in our service.

No one explained this better than Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian veteran of World War I, who wrote a poem in 1915 entitled “In Flanders Fields.”  His famous poem describes the bright red flowers that bloomed between the rows of white crosses that marked the graves of the war dead in Belgium. Those bright red flowers, poppies, were soon known throughout the Allied world as the “flower of the fallen”, sometimes, “the flower of remembrance”.

Colonel McCrae’s poem had a deep affect on a young French woman named Anna Guerin. She created the idea of selling artificial poppies to help orphans and others left behind in the aftermath of World War I.

By 1920, the VFW had started selling its own “Buddy Poppy”, a paper lapel flower, to celebrate the fallen and help disabled veterans.

Although I have no live poppies in my yard to gather for the graves of loved ones anymore, I will never forget the reverent and simple pleasure of picking them on Decoration Days gone by.

And no words convey the meaning of the symbolic blood-red poppy better than the Colonel’s noted poem.

Lest we forget to honor those who died for their country, here is that memorable poem of 1915 to keep the meaning of “Decoration Day” fresh in our hearts and minds.

In Flanders Fields

By Colonel John McCrae

            “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row, that marks our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago. We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved, and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe; to you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders field.”

Jul 01

On Independence Day, whistle Yankee Doodle with the fervor of John Adams – from my archived columns first published in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper

Yankee-Doodle-Came-To-Town

“Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony. Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.”

– Revolutionary War ditty

As we celebrate the 4th of July this weekend, perhaps whistling the song Yankee Doodle is just what we need to do as we reflect on the birth of our nation, 233 years ago in 1776.

We must never forget that day and why it is important. Whistling and singing Yankee Doodle might help us do just that, if we do it with the gusto John Adams professed.

As I researched the history of July 4th to rejuvenate my memory, I remembered that July 2nd not July 4th was the official date when the Second Continental Congress voted in a closed session to separate the American colonies from Great Britain. But the date July 4th is the date shown on the Declaration of Independence document, the date when the colonial government announced its independence to the world.

The exact date does not really matter anyway as John Adams wrote in this now-famous note to his wife at the end of the colonists’ world-changing congress. What does matter is how we remember and celebrate our nation’s birth.

John Adams penned: “The second day (later celebrated as the fourth) of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated at the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

I like what John Adams had to say.

In fact, I wish patriotism would come back in style with the fervor John Adams describes.

I wish we could unabashedly sing Yankee Doodle Dandy’s light-hearted and whimsical tune without a cynic raising an annoyed eyebrow.

I wish folks would stick a small American flag in a flowerpot with pride, display an official flag with dignity and respect, and never, ever belittle it.

I wish the citizens of this great country would feel proud of their fine country, the best experiment in freedom ever envisioned. I wish we would never hang our heads about the United States of America, I wish.

I wish when fireworks explode over ballparks and city parks this July 4th, that we collectively get a lump in our throats, that we swell with pride as the national anthem is sung.

I wish we would do all these patriotic things again without apology as we did in days and years gone by.

And yes, I wish folks would walk around whistling the light-hearted and whimsical Yankee Doodle Dandy refrain. It would bring a smile to my face. It would make you feel good, even if you are dressed up, as my cousin Al used to say.

Hey, Kermit the Frog sang Yankee Doodle and so did Barney and Friends. Caroline Kennedy named her pony “Macaroni”, and it is the official State Song of Connecticut.

How can you go wrong with that? It won’t hurt you, it will help you.

So won’t you join me this Fourth of July by taking John Adams’ words to heart and sing happily and proudly:

“Father and I went down to camp, along with Captain Gooding. And there were all the men and boys as thick as hasty pudding. There was Captain Washington upon a slapping stallion; a giving orders to his men, I guess there was a million.

Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony. Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni. Yankee Doodle, keep it up, Yankee Doodle Dandy. Mind the music and the step and with the girls be handy.”

Happy Fourth of July!

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