Last Saturday evening, I had the privilege of having dinner with a handful of true patriots and their families. These men—veterans of PT boat service during WWII—volunteered in their youth for the Navy’s riskiest jobs. After months of intensive training, they boarded tiny wooden ships and went up against the Japanese Navy, German submarines, and in some cases, the worst weather on the planet. The stories they tell are breathtaking.
There’s the one about the 15-year-old who was accepted into the war-time Navy because he had priceless ham radio experience. By the time he was 19, he’d survived the Bataan death march, two bayonet wounds, and over two years as a Japanese prisoner of war. There’s the guy who lost sight of another boat as they went to battle against Japanese war ships in Surigao Strait in the Philippines. Sixty years later, he met a man who’d been aboard the other PT boat, and they identified one another by the numbers of their boats. Each had discovered a fellow sailor he’d thought had been lost on the other boat. They fell into each other’s arms and wept with joy that both had survived. One fellow laughed as he described trying to cook frozen Spam during winter in the Aleutian Islands.
What makes these men patriots? Their actions. Patriotism isn’t an emotion, it’s a commitment. It’s not just “feeling the love”—it’s doing something about it. It’s more than a hand over the heart during the National Anthem or a ribbon displayed on the butt end of an automobile.
As we left the dining hall, I was pondering what I can do, in all my pampered safety, to be a patriot. One of the elderly warriors happened to be standing by the door, gazing at some photos of President Obama, the Commandant of the Navy, and other top military officials. I saw him reach his hand up and touch the bill of an imaginary cap.
Following his gaze, I asked, “Are you a Democrat?”
“No,” he said, “I’m a Republican. But that man’s my Commander in Chief. That’s all I need to know.”