So there I was last weekend, in the VIP section of the Worcester Centrum, sitting a few seats away from Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman and next to a friendly, proud young man who had just returned from a long deployment in Iraq.
Before the show began, a spotlight was on us while the general and the soldier were introduced. Applauding, I thanked the soldier while disguising my surprise at being in the spotlight.
I was with a VIP, Woodrow (Woody) Ford, my partner Chip's father. His daughter, Diane, and I had accompanied him to the U.S. Army's largest community outreach event, Spirit of America.
When Woody learned, at the dedication of the Washington World War II Memorial in May, that the show was coming to Worcester, he volunteered to promote attendance in the Lowell area. When Woody volunteers, the job gets done.
Woody, a World War II veteran who served with the 107th Evacuation Hospital in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge, has organized and presided over 57 annual 107th reunions. Because Woody had done so much to help fill the Centrum event, Gen. Jackman wanted to meet him before the afternoon show. His face on the program looked familiar, but I couldn't place it.
His aides met us at the door and we were whisked to a conference room, where we spent 20 minutes visiting with him. He was casual and friendly, as if nothing was more important than to chat with a World War II veteran who supported the Army event.
I soon learned why I had recognized him: As commanding general of the Army Military District of Washington, D.C., he had been in charge of former President Ronald Reagan's funeral procession there. You probably noticed him as I did, standing with Nancy Reagan on his arm as she led the nation's farewell.
He insisted that we sit with him during the show, which was an amazing presentation that followed Army history backward from Iraq and Afghanistan through Vietnam, Korea, the world wars, the Civil War to the American Revolution. With a giant film background, live soldiers presented dramatic skits that included battle scenes, rescues and Paul Revere riding around the arena on a white horse to warn the first Army recruits, the Colonial Minutemen. The second act was ceremonial drill and musical performances. More than 400 soldiers from the Army's elite ceremonial units took part.
I thought to myself, "This is my reward for suffering through 'Fahrenheit 9/11' on Labor Day weekend." It was also a nice balance: Clearly the entire production is an Army recruitment event. During intermission, the general swore in more than 200 new recruits from the region, and local ROTC students were introduced and applauded.
Recruitment is fine with me. If this works, we can avoid a military draft — the government's involuntary servitude scheme that first got me involved against politics during the Vietnam War. The United States' losing strategy didn't need justification by politicians who could force young men to serve no matter how undefined their mission.
The Spirit of America presentation was fair. It focused on the Army's preference for offense, not defense, and on the comradeship of professional warriors. Soldier-actors in roles of Vietnam and Iraqi combatants stated that they didn't know why they were there, but they would stay to support their buddies and do their job.
I was surprised. When I first told Woody I would go with him, I had anticipated a heavily patriotic program, a good way to spend two hours on Sept. 11. Most people who saw Michael Moore's film would have expected that a recruitment event would feature promises of job training and a chance to see the world, aimed at low-income youths with few prospects. Instead, this event showed dead and wounded soldiers, and the patriotism was mixed with other, more personal military values.
The message was: "I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team, an expert and a professional. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life."
As a skeptic who challenges propaganda from any source, I found plenty to challenge when I was part of the military family as a Navy wife. Blind obedience to authority isn't my thing. But because I want to guard freedom, I was ready to sign up on Saturday myself. I wanted to be part of the team.
Gen. Jackman told us that the biggest problem with the war against terrorism is that, unlike World War II, the American people do not feel that they are a part of it. He thinks that President Bush, like Franklin Roosevelt, should have a fireside chat and invite us in.
I think many of us do want to be included. That's why we display the flag and yellow ribbons, and applaud the veterans who return from Afghanistan and Iraq. Our leaders should show us that, even as individual civilians, we can aspire to the Army values of "loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity and personal courage" in our daily lives.
We can make our country stronger by being, each in our own way, the Spirit of America.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.