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Category Archive: Patriotism

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 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!

May 26

The flower of the fallen, the blood-red poppy, an enduring Memorial Day symbol – from archived columns first published in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County Missouri daily.

poppy-field-wet“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row”

—Col. John McCrae, 1915.

Nothing except perhaps the America flag symbolizes Memorial Day more than the blood-red poppy.

And no one explained this symbol 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 vivid reddish-orange flowers, poppies, were soon known throughout the Allied world as the “flower of the fallen”, sometimes, “the flower of remembrance”.

Although I have no live poppies in my yard like my Mother used to have in her garden, I will never forget the reverent and simple pleasure of picking them for “Decoration Day”.

I would love to find poppies to take to cemeteries on this Memorial Day weekend, but they are not readily available.

Luckily, I found an alternative flower choice while reading a Memorial Day blog by Sylvia M. onwww.usmemorialday.org.

The idea: use fresh, red carnations, an inexpensive and available option to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers and other loved ones.

Here is what Sylvia wrote about her idea and how she intends to use the carnations:

“This weekend I am going to do something different. I am going to buy some carnations each day and go to one of the nearby cemeteries and walk through the sections for soldiers. When I find a grave that has no flowers, I’ll leave one and say a prayer for the family of that person, who for some reason could not bring their soldier flowers. I will pray for our country and all who serve or have served. For their families, who also serve by losing precious days, weeks and months spent with their loved ones who are off serving, preserving peace and the freedom we have in this country. I’ll pray for the families who paid the ultimate price, who’s loved ones died, or were taken captive and never returned. I’ll pray for anyone who may still be held in captivity and thinks perhaps they are forgotten. I do NOT forget.”

Poppies or carnations?

It doesn’t really matter.

What is important is why this tradition endures.

One can almost see the poppies blooming between the rows of white crosses on Flanders Field and hear the voices of the fallen as described in the final lines of Colonel McRae’s World War I poem:

“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.”

Feb 16

Presidents’ Day is a confusing holiday

President’s Day is a little bit puzzling to me, but it didn’t used to be.

When I was in elementary school and until 1971, we celebrated the holiday with two days off from school, one for President Washington and one for President Lincoln.

Every school child knew that President Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12th, and everyone of us knew by heart that President George Washington’s birthday was Feb. 22nd.

No national holiday existed yet.

Originally called Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 22nd was a day set aside in 1885 by President Chester Arthur as a day to honor the “father of our country.”

Since 1968, however, I cannot get Presidents Day straight in my mind because in that year Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act.

Everyone was supposed to celebrate Presidents Day the third Monday in February to honor two of our greatest presidents of the United States, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, on the same day.

I remember that teachers, students and the general public were perplexed about the change in 1968, but, as it turned out, we weren’t the only ones.

On Capital Hill, lawmakers found a surprising glitch in its Monday Holidays Act. Congress learned after the fact that there was a federal statute already on the books designating the third Monday as Washington’s Birthday.

Did that leave Lincoln out?

No one seemed to know, but some legislators fought to include Lincoln in the official name. The resolution was defeated and, contrary to popular belief, I learned that the name of the federal holiday has never been officially changed, and remains on the books designated as Washington’s Birthday.

After a few years of uncertainty, President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation in 1971 stating that the third Monday of February would honor all past presidents of the United States.

This was supposed to clear things up since most people had no idea whether to continue celebrating Feb. 12 and 22 separately or together. Some schools observed both days during this period of time, but many, as I recall, no longer gave students two days off, only one.

There was another glitch in this situation that added even more confusion.

The news media or the government or someone began to tell us that the new presidential proclamation, although important and weighty, was not the same as an executive order.

If I remember correctly, banks did not close at first on the new Presidents Day, and the post office delivered mail because states were not required to adopt the federal holiday, since Presidents Day really wasn’t a federal holiday.

It may sound impossible to believe these days, but no one split hairs much back then, and in time, Presidents Day observances around the country complied without much fuss with the Monday Holiday Act.

Although Nixon’s proclamation indicated we should celebrate all past presidents’ birthdays, it is safe to say there weren’t many festivities centered around the birthdays of Grover Cleveland or William Henry Harrison, for instance.

I am happy to tell you that recently I found some children’s Crayola coloring pages much like we used when I was a child. Both Washington and Lincoln are depicted together with a big birthday cake and lots of candles on one page, and other pages feature them separately.

And printed in large type are the familiar words: Happy Birthday, Presidents Washington and Lincoln.

Nice to know some things never change.


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