Author: Alvira, Marco

With Courage and Hope

His mouth was dry. His heart beat so hard that the young Massachusetts’s man was sure that those crouching at his elbows behind the earthen works could hear it and think him cowardly. Was anyone else as terrified? To the young militia man’s left was the Mystic River. To his right, the Charles River. Sitting atop the highest redoubt on Breed’s Hill on the Charlestown peninsula, a breeze kept him cool under the late spring sun. More than 2400 British soldier were assembling below. An occasional ra-ta-ta-tat of beating drums reached his ears (his senses keen in morbid anticipation). The stout infantrymen emblazoned in brilliant crimson uniforms and clutching short muskets with bayonets glistening in the light, briskly jostled into rigid rank and file. The intention of every soldier in his sight was to kill him. It was nearly three PM. The formations were complete, and now the long lines of British infantry, like a huge, deadly red millipede, began to move in unison up the hill. The young man had to use the privy, but there was no time. Questions--horrifying questions-- raced through mind: Was his musket loaded and primed? He checked it. And then the question popped into his head again…so he checked it a second, and then a third time. He wondered if he would he freeze at the crucial moment. Does it hurt to die?

I don’t really know if that’s exactly how the young militiaman felt, but that’s how I imagined it when I read my great aunt’s copy of our family history. She was a Daughter of the American Revolution, and one of my distant uncles fought at Bunker (Breed’s) Hill that fateful day on June 17, 1775. Most eleven year olds would prefer to think of their ancestors as fearless killing machines in battle. I, however, had long known that most men didn’t really feel that way in war. I had heard plenty of World War II stories between my grandfather and his WWII buddies. A number of times, my grandpa had described how his aircraft carrier shook with gunfire as Kamikazes bore down on the flat topped ship. Adrenalin and the instinct to survive overpowered the urge to run as he fed shells into his 90mm anti-aircraft gun. Hit best buddy, Pete Melendez, a jeep driver, received a Bronze Star for saving one of General Patten’s key adjutants when they came under German fire. He drove his Willie miraculously up a near vertical ravine wall to escape. In each instance, I learned that the will to fight had less to do with bravery, and more to do with survival instinct. The real courage was demonstrated between battles—that is, when young soldiers and sailors stuck around, waiting for the fight, knowing exactly what was going to come at them.

Plenty of my family’s blood has been shed in fighting for and building our country since we first arrived on the Mayflower. The celebration of Independence Day, to my kin, is not only a birthday party for our nation, but also a celebration of our family’s history. Like any extended family, we have our left-wingers and our conservative reactionaries. We also have, regardless of one’s position on the political spectrum, a great love for America’s values, traditions, history, great land, and it’s wonderful people. While as a nation, we may have our social and political warts, we remain a Union of great overall beauty and strength. Americans demonstrate the world’s deepest compassion and charity in times of crisis, and the greatest bravery and sacrifice in times of peril. Our ingenuity as inventors and innovators has not only made the USA a safer, more comfortable nation in which to live, but likewise, has improved the standard of living for the entire world. I am neither naďve nor jingoistic, for I know that we, as a nation have danced with racism and imperialism. Yet, collectively, acting almost as by instinct, we stand to fight these evils, guided by principles of individual liberty and equality under the law.

In our national mantra, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” we find an expression of hope. Without this hope, we cease to be Americans, for it is this hope that defines us. We live in divisive and dangerous times. Our position as world leaders is being questioned and challenged. Our ability to be productive is racked with self-doubt. I have not seen our national morale this low since the mid and late seventies. The remedies to these issues readdress some of the classic conflicts of our history: Large government v. small government; the rights of the individual v. the needs of the state; the expanding power of the executive branch v. the constitutional prerogatives of the legislative branch. In fact, our nation has been presented with much more difficult circumstances than those in which we find ourselves now. America has always found solutions to its problems by a simple adherence to its hope and principles and has long exceeded the political lifespan projected by the Enlightenment philosophers.

I seriously doubt that my distant ancestor was mulling the political future of America as he awaited the advancing British on Breed’s Hill. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my heart and mind that he shared the same hope as that which we thrive today. In that singular, common aspect, not only is he my ancestor, but all of ours as well. So happy birthday America and let us celebrate our independence as a family and raise our glasses to the courage to fight our future battles, and the hope that we do so righteously.

Posted:  7/4/2010

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