- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2003

Pam and James Elsinger have sent two of their nine children — both young men, both college students — to see action in the Persian Gulf.

Joseph, 20, packed up and departed for “destination unknown” in February with his National Guard unit. He returned safe and sound in May to the family home in Herndon. Jeremiah, 21, left in April for Kuwait. His orders point to a yearlong deployment.

As difficult as it has been to see her sons enter a war zone, “it was natural for them to say, ‘Let’s go,’ because they love their freedoms and choices here,” says Mrs. Elsinger, whose husband is a lieutenant colonel in the Maryland National Guard.

The recent threats to the nation have inspired a collective national pride and appreciation of the values this country represents: freedom, equality and justice. Americans are demonstrating this patriotism in ways as diverse as the country’s population — by celebrating their flag and remembering, especially on Independence Day, those who have made a tangible sacrifice to ensure that the flag continues to wave.

“This is an all-volunteer army, and we all go into this with our eyes open,” Mrs. Elsinger says. “I knew [my sons] could be called to military action, but I always hoped there wouldn’t be any wars.”

This year, the family will spend July Fourth together — at Disney World in Orlando — but with one absent.

“The Fourth has always been a very special holiday for us,” Mrs. Elsinger says. “We’ll never forget this year’s holiday. It will always be in our minds that it’s the one where Jeremiah was missing. The Fourth probably will have even more meaning from now on.”

The meaning of patriotism

Eric Medina is a modern-day hero — someone who has put himself on the line. The Operation Desert Storm veteran, a Marine gunnery sergeant who serves now as a reservist on active duty, says he is well aware of how important it is to be involved in a democratic society.

He’ll fight for that privilege, he says.

“I always feel a sense of clarity and vision about my duty and how important it is for me to stand my post every day,” he says.

Independence Day is an important observance to him, he says.

“I feel the sense of the need to be ready. It all comes down to commitment. It all comes down to being ready. The Fourth of July reinforces that commitment and that feeling.”

The Independence Day holiday will find the Alexandria resident astride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, cruising before the fireworks with members of his riding club, Band of Brothers, showing camaraderie and fraternity for the Marine Corps.

“I’m a Marine first,” Gunnery Sgt. Medina says. “That’s who I am. It’s really dedication to the Corps and the country. It’s a life thing.”

Thinking of the children

Tayinikia Campbell knows her two girls, Malaysia and Qunisha, have sacrificed in their young lives for their country.

The Navy hospital corpsman second class, a single mother, was on the USS Cole when it was bombed by terrorists off the coast of Yemen in October 2000. She joined the hospital ship USNS Comfort at the start of the Iraqi war, serving for more than three months, leaving her daughters in the care of their grandmother in South Carolina.

Her girls were scared when she left, Corpsman Campbell says.

“But I told them, ‘Mommy has a job to do — I have to go overseas to a hospital ship to help people.’ I feel like I made a very huge sacrifice by leaving my kids. I felt nervous about going to war. My biggest fear was to not be able to return home. It was just a feeling of whether I’d be able to return to see my kids again. As a single parent, it’s hard.”

This Independence Day will find her working a shift as a psychiatric technician at Bethesda Naval Hospital. She will celebrate the holiday a day later with a couple of nearby aunts and her daughters, the Gaithersburg resident says.

She won’t be doing any fireworks, however.

“I’m still kind of jumpy about the sound of explosions and stuff,” she says.

Silver Spring residents Lisa Tomlinson and William Christeson plan to enjoy the entire traditional July Fourth package this year — parade, picnic, fireworks — accompanied by their daughter, Haley Tomlinson, 3, who they adopted from Vietnam in September 2000.

Because of their daughter’s origins, the couple spend a lot of time explaining to people that Vietnam is a country, not a war, Ms. Tomlinson says.

“So many people approach us and want to mention the war when we say where our child is from,” she says. “You’re forced to think about war and conflict more than other people do.”

On the Fourth, however, it’s all about celebrating the independence of the United States, and it’s about being grateful to live in a country where people can say what they want and do what they want without the government stepping in, she says.

“We’ll dress Haley up in red, white and blue and tell her — all that she’ll really be able to understand — that this is a big party to celebrate our country.”

Celebrating freedom

Citizens are most patriotic when they are arguing over the meaning of patriotism, says Char Miller, chairman of the history department at Trinity University in San Antonio.

“That’s how we best reflect our love for our country and the values it embodies,” says Mr. Miller, who specializes in intellectual, cultural and political history.

“When our patriotic fervor arises, it’s a mark of a nation in distress. We can be courageous, determined and progressive, but we’re also feeling stress, and the welling-up of patriotism is a way of reflecting our stress. That could be a healthy response to a troubling world.”

For his part, Mr. Miller will spend this July Fourth as he usually spends it: reading the Declaration of Independence. He says he likes to remind himself what the Founders thought important and why it matters that the Declaration was written.

“It is humbling to know the extent to which those men put themselves and their families on the line — a test we rarely face — but they did with amazing courage and great intellect,” he says.

America has experienced a rebirth of patriotism since the terrorist attacks of September 11, says Linda Tinker Watkins, president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A January 2001 Gallup poll indicated that 55 percent of Americans were “extremely proud” of their status as Americans. In September 2002, 69 percent felt that way.

“People have responded in a very strong way to say this country has some very fine concepts and values that maybe other countries don’t understand, like the value of human life,” she says.

The country will continue to see a growth in its sense of patriotism and nationalism, Ms. Watkins says.

“America is based upon traditions and customs, and if there is no remembrance of the past, there’s no basis for the future,” she says. “Families are going to be celebrating this year in a different way, a little more aware of the meaning of freedom. Independence Day is an occasion to remember what we’ve just been through — that freedom is not free and we cannot take it for granted.”

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