Tag Archives: Country

A father’s tears for his fatherland

In these trying days, God seems to be putting us to twin tests – of individual perseverance, and of allegiance to our country.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

Love of country isn’t just a cozy sentiment, it’s required under the Fourth Commandment. As our country is our fatherland, our love, respect and obligations are extended to our ‘extended family,’ our countrymen. In Catholic school, we were taught (referencing the Baltimore Catechism) that showing sincere support of one’s country meant voting honestly, paying just taxes, and defending the country’s honor when necessary

In the early 1940s, my grandfather – an immigrant from Italy – served on his Pennsylvania town’s draft board. He recruited his own sons who were eligible to fight in WWII, including my then-teenage dad, Victor. Grandpop was a devout Catholic and proud American patriot, which meant sending his sons to fight against his native Italy, along with boys of many neighbors.

Seeing his elder brother, Joe, go off to Army boot camp in 1941, my dad was raring to go. He strolled through the neighborhood in his leather squadron jacket and bomber cap, posing for a photo whenever possible. He loved pre-matinee film clips of the Glenn Miller Band entertaining troops overseas – Dad had even started his own big band. He absorbed each day’s radio and newspaper reports on the war’s progress. He was already there. 

But because of a knee injury suffered in infancy, the Army rejected him. He took it like a fatal diagnosis.

“I watched neighbors and friends leave weekly, and I wanted to go. I was the only guy my age left in the neighborhood. When the July 1944 telegram came saying Joe was injured at Utah Beach, France and hospitalized in Paris, my mother had a breakdown. Five months later we got another one saying he was wounded again in Germany.”

With their mother – my grandmother – wracked with fear and worry, Dad said, “I did as much as I could to alleviate her stress at home.” Dad lightened things up with his incredible humor, and helped with his younger siblings. He would tear up when he recounted it, still lamenting not being on the fighting lines.

Almost 60 years later, Dad came to live with us and I learned still more. He related war events clearer than any documentary – during movies, film shorts, and family gatherings. He pored through old photos, pointing out those who never made it back and what he’d remembered about them.

Each Memorial Day, our town has a parade spotlighting WWII veterans dressed in their military uniforms, waving to the crowds. As Dad got more immobile, I’d need to get him there early, into his wheelchair, and over a few blocks for a good curbside spot. Because he wouldn’t miss it. 

As the WWII vets would approach, Dad’s eyes brimmed with tears as he, well-dressed for the occasion, sat tall and saluted each parade-group from his wheelchair, his lower lip quivering, his memories still fresh. He always told us, “This great country is worth fighting for, and don’t you kids forget it.”

 CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

Great Catholic Patriots In U.S. History

Although Catholics were a tiny minority at the time of the War for Independence and have suffered bigotry since colonial days, Catholics also have made great contributions to the cause of freedom throughout American history. Here are just a few examples.

Charles, Daniel, and John Carroll were part of a wealthy colonial family in Maryland. Charles Carroll was an early advocate of American separation from Great Britain and was the only Catholic among the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence. His cousin Daniel was one of only five men to have signed both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, while cousin John became the first Catholic bishop in the United States.

Commodore John Barry, an Irishborn Catholic from Philadelphia, has been called the “Father of the American Navy.” He served heroically throughout the Revolutionary War at the helm of Continental Navy warships. When President George Washington established a permanent U.S. Navy in 1794 he appointed Barry its senior captain and commodore.

Capt. André Cailloux was the first black war hero of the Civil War. In 1863, he was killed while leading Company E of the 1st Regiment Louisiana Native Guards in an assault on a Confederate fortress in Port Hudson, LA. His regiment, which was overwhelmingly Catholic, was the first black regiment to be mustered into the U.S. Army and the first to engage in a major battle.

Clara Barton, dubbed the “Angel of the Battlefield,” provided medical supplies and nursing care for wounded soldiers on the frontlines of the Civil War. “I was strong and thought I might go to the rescue of the men who fell. . . . What could I do but go with them, or work for them and my country?” she wrote in her memoirs. “The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins.” She later founded the American Red Cross.

Fr. Michael McGivney responded to the financial struggles of immigrant workers and the widespread bigotry against Catholics in the latter 1800s by founding the Knights of Columbus as a mutual aid society. Emphasizing both patriotism and Catholicism, the order showed how one could be both a faithful Catholic and a proud American.

Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated for U.S. president by a major party, lost in a landslide in 1928 to Herbert Hoover due in part to the nation’s prosperity and in part to lingering anti-Catholic prejudice. But he helped pave the way for the election of our first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, 32 years later.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Making America Patriotic Again

Whatever happened to patriotism? Recent Gallup polls reveal that Americans are feeling less patriotic nowadays.

Last summer, for the first time in the 18 years Gallup has conducted the poll, fewer than half of U.S. adults – just 47 percent – said they are “extremely proud” to be American. That was a 4 percent drop from 2017 and a marked decrease from the 70 percent figure seen in 2003.

Among younger Americans, patriotism seems even weaker. A Pew Research report a few years back found that fewer than half of U.S. millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – would describe themselves as “a patriotic person” at all. And a 2018 YouGov survey found that 46 percent of U.S. young adults ages 14 to 37 did not believe that America is “the greatest country in the world.”

“The millennial generation has earned plenty of labels,” said Gabrielle Bosché, a millennial strategist and author of the 2017 book 5 Millennial Myths. “Patriotic certainly isn’t one of them.”

That perceived lack of love for country has some observers concerned. In a commentary reflecting on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion earlier this year, Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky wondered: “Would today’s millennials meet the same challenge if faced with a future war, one in which the U.S. and its allies were attacked?” 

Meaning of patriotism

 Yet patriotism means different things to different people. All agree it means love of country, but how much can one disagree with a nation’s laws, government, and leadership and still be considered patriotic?

Although a nation founded upon democratic principles and individual liberties must allow for a “loyal dissent,” gestures such as athletes “taking a knee” during the National Anthem are seen by many as disrespecting the flag and those who defend it. On the other hand, those who show zealous, uncritical support for our country to the point of carving out a “love it or leave it” position are sometimes accused of expressing not patriotism, but rather nationalism.

Nevertheless, “That some have exhibited extremes of patriotism does not remove the truth that patriotism is a virtue and is both commended to us and commanded of us,” writes Monsignor Charles Pope, a pastor in Washington, D.C., and a popular blogger.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the virtue of patriotism, relating it to the Fourth Commandment call to honor one’s father and mother. “It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom,” it reads. “The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.” (#2239)

That concern for the common good necessarily extends beyond one’s own national borders, however, or risks sliding toward an unhealthy nationalism. As Pope St. John Paul II said in an address to the United Nations in 1995, “True patriotism never seeks to advance the wellbeing of one’s own nation at the expense of others. …

Nationalism, particularly in its most radical forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism, and today we must ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism.”

Reinvigorating patriotism

How, then, do we instill true patriotism among young Americans?

Some educators debate whether patriotism should be taught at all. Many elementary and high schools across the country today do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In those that do, students are not required to participate. History textbooks present more varied perspectives than they once did. Patriotism, or at least its public expression, is not being taught or practiced as perhaps it was years ago.

Meanwhile, President Trump has called for changes to public-school curricula with the intention of “promoting American pride and patriotism in America’s schools.” Such an initiative likely would involve not only saluting the flag, but also fostering American pride through lessons in history and civics, even if the shadows of history and the controversies of today are taught along with the principles of a democratic republic and the stories of America’s national heroes.

While those at other points on the political spectrum might not endorse such an educational directive, many still understand the need to rouse a patriotic spirit – however it may be defined – among the U.S. citizenry. “One of the core lessons of Trumpian politics is that Americans are starved for a meaningful politics of what it means to be American,” said political author Jefferson Cowie in a New York Times essay a year ago.

Even Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic former mayor of Chicago, acknowledges the need to start with the younger generation. He has called for a restoration of patriotism in our youth through mandatory national service such that all 18-year-olds who do not join the military must volunteer for six months with the Peace Corps or another service organization. “[A] universal national service program will tap into younger Americans’ desire to serve the greater good,” Emanuel explained in an April 2019 essay in The Atlantic.

Millennials and the future 

Amid the alarming polls, there is reason for hope.

Bosché, the millennial researcher, understands why younger Americans don’t sound as patriotic as their elders: they tend to be more independent in their thinking. They hear more discussions involving concerns over privilege and access, inequities in income and opportunity, and broader perspectives on global issues, and are less inclined to take the “my country, right or wrong” approach of generations past. Still, she sees this social awareness as a strength that can benefit America. “In truth, I believe millennials are more equipped to change the world than our predecessors were at our age,” she said.

Bosché said she knows many young people who consider reciting the Pledge “a privilege” rather than a duty

“Not all millennials have lost respect for our country,” she emphasized.

 GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.