and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
May #4

Memorial Day stirs thoughts of
what it means to be an American
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, May 25, 2006

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

Moina Michael, 1915

Where have all the poppies gone?

My father always bought the red artificial poppies for us to wear to the parade. I once helped veterans sell them for a Girl Scout badge. But I haven't seen them in awhile.

Did I know then that they represented Flanders' fields during World War I, and the blood of war heroes? Like other lucky American children, I knew nothing of war, except waiting for my Uncle Danny to come home from World War II.

Memorial Day was known as "Decoration Day," so we decorated our bikes with red, white and blue crepe paper to go to the parade. I seem to recall we would visit the graves of all deceased relatives, not just those who died at war.

But Memorial Day is meant only for the latter. Veterans Day in November is to honor all veterans. Independence Day is meant to remind us of what they serve to protect. Flag Day honors the symbol of our country, the "one nation, under God, indivisible" ideal that has become controversial lately.

* Incredibly, if you Google "Flag Day," the National Flag Day Foundation gives the Pledge of Allegiance in English, German, Spanish, French, Hindi, Portuguese and Dutch. What part of "indivisible" doesn't the National Flag Foundation understand? We Americans are united by our common language, and that would be English. I'm quite sure my German immigrant ancestors had to recite the Pledge in English when they became citizens.

The present debate over illegal immigrants isn't just about illegal immigrants. As a matter of timing, it has become the issue that brings into focus another, much broader issue: What is happening to our country? Where did America go?

If I were to see a recent immigrant at the Memorial Day parade, standing with the tiny percentage of locals who attend this event, removing a baseball cap when the flag passes by, holding a hand over a heart, singing the National Anthem (in English, of course), I'd say "Welcome, new American! We need more of you!"

Even the "illegal" thing isn't the whole point of the recent controversy. During our ongoing arguments on this subject, my son stated that the Mexicans who have the resourcefulness to get here despite the law, are perhaps the kind of people we want more than those who meekly obey our immigration laws and wait their turn.

I can't wrap my mind around that either, not to mention his support for completely open borders. I never should have sent him to UMass, or maybe to college at all. The problem is not just illegals who are simply acting in their own perceived self-interest, but all the Americans whose support for them is not in the best interest of their country, families or selves in the long term.

As we worry about what will happen to the United States of America when it loses its national identity, when "divisibility" leads to less freedom and justice for all, we should stop to ask where the national identity is going even without immigration. I think one can make a point, similar to my son's, that many immigrants understand the American Dream better than a lot of us do.

When did we lose our way? When Memorial Day was changed from May 30 to a three-day weekend, becoming just another piece of our partying, working, and shopping lifestyles? When every home no longer flew a flag on the patriotic holidays? When poppies became hard to find? When students stopped learning history, and adults started forgetting it?

I think we know that something is wrong here, and it was going wrong before anyone noticed millions of illegal immigrants demanding rights and privileges that they hadn't yet earned by learning English and becoming citizens. Many Americans have been demanding unearned rights and privileges for decades expecting subsidies, complaining about responsibilities, and voting for politicians who promise them something for nothing at the expense of other Americans.

Many of us have failed to be properly grateful for the things to which we are truly entitled as citizens. Many of us have been forgetting, as years go by, to honor those fallen heroes who kept us privileged and free.

We know what the World War II veterans saved us from the Germans who didn't emigrate here, who joined the Nazis instead. Some of us are less sure about why our government sent draftees to Korea and Vietnam; but Korean, Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants might tell us how lucky we are to have been born here instead of there. The war in Iraq is a legitimate subject for debate; perhaps the Iraqis who support us, who might be killed if we withdraw, should get in line to emigrate. Maybe they would attend Memorial Day parades to honor those who saved them from Saddam Hussein and tried to give them freedom and justice.

Meanwhile, I'm going to look for a red poppy to wear to the parade on Monday.

*  Correction

In my Memorial Day column, I incorrectly wrote:  "Incredibly, if you google 'Flag Day,' the National Flag Day Foundation gives the Pledge of Allegiance in English, German, Spanish, French, Hindi, Portugese and Dutch." In fact, the National Flag Day Foundation has the pledge of allegiance only in English and sign language. It has recently changed its name to the American Flag Foundation to better distinguish itself from similar groups, like the one whose website has the pledge in several languages,

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.