The flag line on the County Line Road bridge near Williams, Arizona, greets over 500 bikers as they begin their pilgrimage to the Viet Nam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. For the fifth year in a row, veterans, bikers from Ash Fork, Prescott and Wickenburg, and family and friends lined up on the bridge to show their support to the group, which started out from Rancho Cucamonga, California early in the morning on Wednesday, May 15th. Following two separate routes, one through the central states and one through the southern states, the groups met up at the wall on May 25th, to pay tribute to all Viet Nam veterans and those Killed In Action, Missing In Action and Prisoners of War. They also journeyed to nearby Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
One blogger who participated and kept a daily log of the ride offers an account of her adventures and stories she picked up along the way here: http://jensride.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/may-25-2013/
My friend, Ellen, from the local American Legion, has been organizing the flag line for this event for 4 years now. She invited me this year, thinking that my 10 year old son would really enjoy watching the motorcycles go by. I found it to be a great opportunity to discuss respect for the American Flag, for veterans, pros and cons of having a military force, and love for country. In spite of this stimulating conversation, the moment we got out of the car, he started checking out the parked bikes. He quickly examined and evaluated each model and decided that when he grows up he wants a three-wheeler. Sigh. I hope he wears a helmet. And rides slow.
Run For The Wall, as Ellen put it, was started by “two guys out in California, to raise awareness of POW’s and MIA’s and help promote healing for Viet Nam vets and their families. 25 years ago the guys started this bike run to the Memorial Wall to honor their buddy who wanted to do it, but died before he could, so they did it for him.” It turned into an annual event. What makes it different from other motorcycle events is the main rule: NO ATTITUDES. This is specifically a mission, a pilgrimage, to promote awareness of POW/MIA, honor and healing for veterans and their families and to remind the powers that be that there are still some that were left behind – and have not been forgotten.
The other night I watched a video I received in the mail, documenting some of the writings of America’s Founding Fathers, in reference to the need for Godly principles in American public life and excerpts from court cases upholding those principles.
George Washington, himself, in his Farewell Address, wrote that our country would fail without them.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington’s_Farewell_Address
As I consider how successful special interest groups have been in removing God and religion from so much of our public life, I could not help but draw a parallel to this past Sunday’s first reading from Nehemiah 8:2-10. After years of captivity and being forbidden to hear the Word of God in public or practice their religion, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. “Ezra the priest…standing at the open place…read out of the book…and all the people listened…all the people were weeping as they heard the words…” I cannot help but think that what was foretold by President Washington if we exclude religion, is coming to pass. I do not believe religion or faith should be forced upon a person – the Catholic Church practiced that grievous mistake for hundreds of years. This, after having it practiced on us for hundreds of years in an attempt to suppress us. God gave us free will that we may come to him willingly and joyfully if we so choose.
As a modern, American Catholic, I am very comfortable with my religious freedom. Maybe even complacent. However, I have been hearing warning bells, and must pull myself out of my complacency. Lest we be dragged into the abyss of secular humanism, let those of us who have faith, pray. Let those of us who have wits, join the fray and educate, legislate and lobby to keep our Constitutional rights. Let those of us who waver, not be swayed by popular opinion, but seek truth on our own, delve deeper into the issues, and draw our own conclusions, instead of jumping on someone else’s bandwagon in ignorant bliss.
On the way to church yesterday, I noticed our veterans from the American Legion hall had installed the flags up and down our two main streets. It took a while to sink in, because I was stubbornly clinging to the thought that Veteran’s Day was Monday. I made a quick change in the music, substituting “America The Beautiful” for the final hymn I had chosen earlier.
As I struggled to sing those beautiful words without choking up, I contemplated their meaning to me:
O beautiful for spacious skies,
Thank you, Father, for unbelievably blue skies that seem to stretch on forever here in Northern Arizona.
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
There are so many…but through the power of prayer and diligent work to amend those flaws, I still believe in U.S.
O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
The tears are nearly out, my throat threatens to choke up. I pause and take a deep breath, thankful for the congregation singing. Thank you to my birth father who served in Japan and in the Korean war. Thank you to my dad, who served in peace time. Thank you to grandpa who served in WWII and to Uncle David, who died on the Bataan Death March. Thank you to my future son-in-law, who served two tours in Iraq. Thank you to my bestie, who served several tours in Viet Nam. Thank you to all the veterans who made it possible for us to continue to fight at home, to keep our religious liberty, and our many other rights which are currently endangered.
So rarely do we ever get through the third verse, but do we ever manage to get to the fourth?
O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea.
It warms my heart to hear people sing the Star Spangled Banner. In recent years, it seems I’ve noticed alot of people who don’t know, or refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or sing our National Anthem. As a student in Catholic schools for ten years, not a day went by when we didn’t say the pledge, and the anthem, as well as other patriotic songs were frequently included in our morning singing.
Undoubtedly, our country has severe flaws. Our president is less than inspiring to many of us. Our lawmakers are a big disappointment, to say the least. But we Americans, we Catholic Americans, come together on the Lord’s Day, and encourage each other; we receive the nourishing body and blood of Christ and are strengthened to go out and do what little we can to be the change we want to see happen.
O’ say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?
As long as it continues to wave, and we continue to pray, there is great hope for our great country.