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Proud to be an American

The teenage soldier from Kansas received a disability discharge in North Carolina during September of '45, with the war scarcely completed. He caught a ride to Washington, D.C., to view the seat of the government he'd represented in combat.

He walked to the Capitol, descended the many steps on the west side and took a seat on a bench at the edge of the Mall.

Looking down the Mall, toward the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial he was inspired. "This is what it was all about," he reflected. And he understood.

He was proud to be an American. After a couple of hours he grabbed the GI duffel bag, slung it over his shoulder, and walked toward the Union Station and trip to Kansas.

On May 29, he again visited the Mall in Washington, D.C., as a member of the so-called "Greatest Generation" (one of the "notch babies").

The seats were good, among thousands and thousands of patriotic people. Though the sun bore down he endured it (on Elsenborn Ridge he swore he'd never complain about heat again). All the dignitaries were present. The Navy Band, jets flying in the "missing man" formation, Secret Service agents everywhere, and throngs of loyal Americans on their best behavior.

The entire day was without problems, it was well organized and flawlessly carried out.

No protesters marred the occasion. We could see no "incidents" pertaining to crowd control, no special problems. People were patriotic, polite, and cooperative.

Every little matter had been handled, even the thousands of bottles of water which were shared free with people who waited for hours under a blazing sun.

Presidents George Bush, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Senator Bob Dole, Tom Brokaw, Tom Hanks, and others spoke eloquently and kept their remarks brief.

It was perhaps the most inspiring celebration and largest assemblage this nation has ever experienced.

The now older Kansan wondered weeks ago if he could physically make it to attend the dedication, but vowed he would try. Though he'd been to Washington many times during the past 59 years, this trip would be special. Friends had died in combat and countless others answered the last call during years that followed — too many years had lapsed waiting for recognition.

He knew he could view it as well on TV at home, but wanted to be there. It was important. Again he recalled "this was what it was all about." His chest swelled with pride. His gait and posture attempted to conform to military regulation. Through misty eyes, but clear memory, he continues to be proud to be an American.

— BILL MEYER

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