God blessed me with an experience of America’s nobility when I was a small boy; one that permanently shaped my conviction of America’s potential for good. That experience is why I expect always to stand to our national anthem.
Growing old has also shown me that nobility is not a “given” for our nation - or any other nation. When I stand for the anthem I am not standing for everything that happens on our soil.
What was noble about the America of my childhood?
I grew up in World War 2. At age 3 or 4 I learned America had been attacked and we were in a dangerous war. One night when my grandparents drew the curtains and turned off lights in a practice “blackout,” I asked why we were doing this. My grandfather replied that a man named Hitler might send bombers to attack us and we were practicing turning off our lights so his planes would have a hard time finding targets for their bombs. I was not afraid, but I got the message. Not only our soldiers, but all of us – including children – were in this war.
Uniforms were everywhere. My mother, uncle and many family friends wore uniforms. My mother’s uniform was the uniform of the American Red Cross. My Uncle Bud, an aviation cadet, wore an army uniform. Though my father was away and I seldom saw him, he also wore the uniform of the Army Air Corps. About half the people in my Mom’s group of friends wore uniforms of the U.S. Army, Navy or Marines. We were visibly a country at war.
The war was officially “over” when I was about 6 years old. For many it continued. For instance, it was hard for returning soldiers and their families to find places to live; there was not enough housing. Builders and building materials had been diverted to the war and away from building houses and apartments.
To help in the housing shortage, my grandmother rented a room to a wounded soldier who had returned from several years of captivity by the Japanese. His name was Charlton Wimer. I asked Charlton one day what he had done in the war. He replied that he had served in the Army in the Philippines and had been captured and put in a prisoner of war camp.
I asked him what being a prisoner was like. He paused and replied that every night he and the other prisoners were forced to sleep with their feet toward the center aisle of the barracks so the guard could strike them with a club every time they made their nighttime rounds.
The war also continued with a new enemy who had been an ally. The Soviet Union violated the peace agreement that gave the German capital of Berlin into the shared control of all the wartime allies.
When most troops of other friendly countries went home, the Soviets kept theirs in place and tried to intimidate America and its friends into surrendering the people of Berlin to Soviet control. The Soviets blocked land access to Berlin and waited to America to accept inevitable defeat.
Instead of delivering the Berliners into the hands of still another tyrant-Josef Stalin-America and its friends supplied all the needs of Berlin by air until the Soviets backed down. Many of the same pilots who had flown bombing missions into Berlin during the war now flew food, supplies and coal in icy winter weather and saved the city.
Having seen the nobility of America, I must stand for our national anthem. Having also seen occasions when we Americans have been less than noble, I also kneel. I kneel to the God who faced down our enemies in my childhood, and who can bring repentance for the less than noble deeds we sometimes do.
May God bless America, and may America bless God who sustains us