- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

Amidst the noise and confusion and concern over the possibility of war with Iraq and the continuing battle against terrorism, it is nice now and then to sit back and contemplate, if only for a moment, what America is really all about.
The opportunities to do this are not frequent, but they are there. It is not necessary to go to Arlington National Cemetery or to the site of the World Trade Center or the Oklahoma City memorial or the one at the Pentagon or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, although these and numerous other monuments to America are certainly inspirational. All one really need do is find an elementary school and be privileged enough to receive an invitation to a Veterans Day program, an event that will melt down the toughest cynic.
It helps to have a granddaughter (or grandson) who is so proud of what she (or he) has been doing that she (or he) wants you there, but it isn't necessary. So next Nov. 11, which we observed as Armistice Day celebrating the end of World War I when I was in the fourth grade, just call around to the school nearest you and ask about their program and if it is all right for you to adopt a child for an hour or so and attend.
What you are likely to witness, particularly in urban environs, is an undiluted, unpretentious, unabashed and unmatched display of patriotism that should expel any doubts about the future welfare of the country and whether succeeding generations will be able to preserve us from whatever harm might come our way. If that assessment seems overly sentimental and exaggerated, I plead guilty to the hyperbole. But I won't take a word of it back, and neither will you when you have a chance to see it. Those who already have will understand.
There were no individual stars in the fourth grade's 90-minute program that unfolded in the Bonnie Brae Elementary School gymnasium in Washington's Virginia suburbs. There were 125 of them dressed up in white shirts and blouses and black pants and skirts. Their countenances, beginning to mature but still cherubic nonetheless, reflected heritages that were European and Asian and African and Hispanic and Middle Eastern, and reaffirmed without doubt that the strength of this nation like no other rests in its magnificent human diversity.
The songs they played on their pipes, called recorders, and sang in harmonious voices with gestures in drill-like precision and the lines they spoke with firmness all had one message:
We all may be of different colors and backgrounds and religions, but we are all Americans and we're proud of it.

There was no hesitation when they put their hands over their hearts and gave the Pledge of Allegiance, no concern when they invoked the name of God in their pledge. Nor did any parent, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Buddhist, stand up to protest, and there were some of each.
They had worked extremely hard for caring teachers in preparation for this tribute to their nation, and to their parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins and neighbors, for protecting them and those before them through the ages.
It is doubtful they understood that the notes they played and sang with such style had come from the minds and hearts of Americans as diverse as they from the son of Irish immigrants, George M. Cohan; from a Russian Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin, and from a wandering minstrel of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, Woody Guthrie.
This program wasn't about glorifying war. It was about saying thank you to Americans like Ed Crouch, who had gone ashore at Normandy at 23 and fought more than 300 days without relief and had been decorated for valor and who came to the front with tears in his eyes to receive a certificate from a 9-year-old boy that was as important to him as the medals he won for bravery.
There were several dozen men and women, some still on active duty, from all the services so honored, and without exception they marched to the podium to get a hug and their own certificate from their presenter as proudly as though they were being decorated by the president of the United States.
In fact, one of the five fourth-grade classes decided to invite George W. Bush. Each child wrote his own letter to the president. They realized he probably couldn't come, but if he had the chances are, like the rest of us, he would also have been reminded of what we're all about.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.


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