A gift of being American from one hero to another
Recently, I was very moved and reminded of why I am proud to be an American when I attended my brother-in-law's Coast Guard retirement ceremony at the Barbers Point air station at Kalaeloa. A typical American military retirement would have been moving enough, but this one had extra impact and meaning.
It was the tale of two American hero soldiers, one who came to America as a Vietnamese boy and the other a former U.S. Army sergeant.
The Coast Guard hangar at Barbers Point was filled with my brother-in-law's fellow Guard members, their commanding officers and his family. He was retiring with the rank of chief in charge of repairing and maintaining the aircraft at Barber's Point. He was awarded medals and a commendation for keeping the aircraft flying that saved countless lives over the years. Commanding officers came up and told glowing stories of his service to his country and how he came to America 30 years ago as a refugee from Vietnam. As touching as all this was, the event that brought a tear to everyone's eyes was when the Coast Guard presented my brother-in-law with an American flag that had flown over the Arizona Memorial. But that was not the end of the story.
After receiving the flag, he called my other brother-in-law, who is a retired U.S. Army sergeant, up to the front and presented him with the flag! My retiring Coast Guard chief brother-in-law thanked him for remaining in South Vietnam 30 years ago as the country collapsed (when he could have evacuated back to safety and the United States almost immediately), staying long enough to rescue the rest of the chief's Vietnamese family and bring them to the United States. There was not a dry eye on the hangar deck.
This is more than a cute story. It is a metaphor for America. A former refugee earned and received a blessed American flag and then in gratitude returned it to the American who in essence first gave it to him by giving him the greatest opportunity in the world: becoming an American. You don't have to speak English (initially) or be rich or white to succeed in America. This is the true living "E Pluribus Unum" motto that is on our coins: "one out of many." This is the true America that you do not see in the media. Instead, we are given the false stories of the now debunked rampage of rape at the New Orleans Superdome or the obsessive coverage of Abu Ghraib.
The point is that we have many quiet heroes like my two brothers-in-law (actually, I have a third one serving in Iraq) in America who you will never hear about. Instead, we and the rest of the world largely get our picture of the United States from the headlines and main stories on television, which are almost always negative. As veteran journalists put it, "If it bleeds, it leads." That is why it is easy for some to hate America when the better and vastly more representative truth about good Americans is not covered.
It is instructive to note that while so many want us to believe that we are a racist, unjust, for rich only, and hate-filled country, everybody (even the groups who supposedly have no chance here) still wants to come here! We are a great country made up of people from all over the world who are proud to be free Americans and who make us very proud.
Leighton Loo lives in Mililani.