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 "For The New Americans"   An essay on what it is to be an American

For The New Americans
Written By Paul M. Parkhurst
Thursday, August 16, 2001

(NOTE:  I originally wrote this back in August of this year, nearly a month before the events of September 11, when I discovered that two of my coworkers [one from Lithuania and the other from the country of Georgia] were being sworn in as citizens of the United States.  Though both mentioned this event humbly and only in passing, I was moved by the enormity of their profound accomplishment.  I began to think about what being a citizen of the United States meant to me, and about what I could do to show to them the pride that I felt.  This text, and the gift of two flag pins, was the result.)

When I heard that you were, today, being sworn in as citizens of the United States of America, I tried to think of something to give you as a token of this momentous occasion.  My thoughts came to rest on these simple American flag lapel pins.

My father used to wear a pin very similar to these.  Every Sunday, he'd put on his best suit and tie and dutifully take my mother and myself to church.  On an inconspicuous fold in the lapel of his jacket would always be the tiny American flag pin.  It wasn't fancy.   It wasn't made of any precious metal and it wasn't studded with gems.  It was small enough not even to be noticed.  Nobody would ever stop him and compliment him on his pin, and he never mentioned that he had it on.  Yet, every Sunday, as he went to church, that American flag always sat in its fixed wave in the same spot, hidden on the lapel of his suit jacket.

My father didn't wear that pin for others to see.  He didn't wear it to be fashionable. He wore it quite simply because it represented something that was very important to him.

It represented his forbearers who endured untold hardships, giving up all that they owned and all that they knew, to come to this country, this land of opportunity and freedom. It represented their desire for a new and better life for themselves and their posterity.

It represented the blood of patriots, shed in the hope that their sacrifice would ensure the freedom of those who came after them.  It reminded my father that he, too, came close to becoming one of these martyred patriots in the service of his country.   It reminded him of that day, long ago in his youth, when all the world was at war, and he sat huddled and afraid in the bowels of a bombed and burning ship as it slowly sank to the bottom of the sea.  It reminded him of his friends and fellow crewmen who were not as lucky as he, whose families would never again see them in this life.   It reminded him that, despite the danger, he took that oath of service as a free man, and would do the same if he were again needed.

That tiny flag also represented an idea; that mankind need not live under the spectre of tyranny; that all men are created equal and deserve the opportunity to control their own destiny and to live, worship, love, and laugh as they see fit.

In short, that tiny flag, hidden from view on the lapel of my father's Sunday jacket, meant that he was an American.  It meant that, in all of the thousands of years of the history of mankind, my father had the privilege to be a citizen of the greatest nation the world has ever known, a nation that is the best hope for all of humanity.

My father is gone, but his memory, and the memory of that pin, lives on in me.  So, as you wear these simple adornments, remember the legacy that they represent.  Remember the people who came before you that made your life in this country possible.  But most importantly, look upon these pins, and upon the flag they symbolize, with pride, and know that you, too, are now Americans.

All content Copyright 2001-2011 by Paul M. Parkhurst unless otherwise noted.
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