What does it mean to be American: She is worth it

July 2nd 2012 No comments yet  

We asked Pastor Roy Williamson what it means to be American. Here is his powerful response:

It means I can unhesitatingly say, “My country is worth it.” The American people, flawed sinners joined together not by ethnicity or color, but by common hopes and dreams, are worth it. The land that encompasses America is worth it.  The promises implicit in the American way of life is worth it. The freedom we enjoy to think, speak, love, and work is worth it.

What is “it?”  “It” is the closing statement in Article I of the Code of Conduct: “I am an American fighting man. I serve in forces that guard our country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” Every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine is obligated to memorize the Code and adhere to it to the best of their ability regardless the situation: peace, combat, or as a prisoner of war.

My introduction to and understanding of the Code occurred in early November of 1973, during the Vietnam conflict and at the height of the anti-war protests, and in the context of Air Force Survival training.  In two days of classroom study, we learned the origin and meaning of the Code and committed it to memory. Then came field training: 60 continuous hours (three nights and two days) in a simulated POW situation.

Crammed into those 60 hours were two meals of fish heads and rice, two hour long stays in “the box,”three interrogations, simulated torture, and five hour long “indoctrination” sessions.  When not engaged in these fascinating activities, we “animals” were caged in windowless cells that were too small to stand up in, too narrow to accommodate our shoulders, and too shallow to bend our knees or sit down. It was 60 hours without sleep.Â

But the worst of all was the indoctrination sessions. Standing in our cells was replaced by bowing before the “commandant” in the prison yard while loudspeakers blared the recorded voices of such luminaries as Jane Fonda calling us “baby killers” and “war criminals” and praising the “people’s revolution.”  Those who exercised freedom of speech in response to the words of these smug, “enlightened” Americans were dealt swift retribution and a prolonged stay in the “box.”

The recurring theme in all indoctrination was, “Why? Why fight? Your country has forgotten you and hates you. Give in and do as we say.”

And behind the speaker’s stand was the flagpole flying the NVA battle flag. We were not in “Kansas” (actually Fairchild AFB, WA) anymore.

It was after our fifth indoctrination session that the meaning of the Code became clear. To move us from place to place, the guards put burlap sacks over our heads and we placed our hands on the shoulders of the person ahead of us. The guards would lead the first person and all would shuffle behind him or her. So, as was the custom, our heads were covered by the sacks, and the order was given to march. After a short march, the column was ordered to “halt!” A voice suddenly cried out, “Animals, Atten-hut!” This was immediately followed by the command, “Left-face!” Then a strange command: “Americans, remove your sacks!” Then, “present-arms!”

We were facing the flagpole. Gone was the NVA flag. The loudspeakers that brought propaganda and invective suddenly blared forth with a snare drum roll. And then those beloved first bars that contain the words “Oh, say can you see”¦” By the dawn’s early light, up that cursed flagpole went Old Glory. The most beautiful sight possible for the 200+ eyes gazing on her. She quickly became indistinct as tears flowed freely.

And at that point it hit every Airman, NCO, and Officer who just regained their status as Americans: “Yes! The United States of America is worth it! We have been deprived of her for this short period so that we can see her true value.”

And the other articles contained in the Code were cemented in our psyches: “I will never surrender of my own free will”, “If I am a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners,” and “I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.  I will trust in God and in the United States of America.”

Because she is worth it.


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