In the Beginning
My family has always loved our country. I’m not really sure when my ancestors decided to get on a ship in Europe and make their way to “The Land of Opportunity” or exactly how they found their way to the Great State of Texas, but they surely had to know the significance of that decision.
In The United States, citizens own land outright, which was something vital to the growth of the country and the people who lived in it. I grew-up listening to stories of how my great-grandparents lived off the land. Some cut timber, others grew cotton, and of course there were the tough Texas cattle ranchers. This generation was not rich in finances but rich in resources. They worked hard and taught their children to do the same. Life was good, and life was simple.
The Greatest Generation
My grandparents’ generation was unfortunately tangled in tragedy. Living in an agrarian society during The Dust Bowl and Great Depression put deep strains on the family. Being a stubborn bunch, they all chose to suffer through the hard times and not abandon the land. Their only saving grace was that since the cotton wasn’t growing and most of the cattle had been sold, the children didn’t have to be out working as much as they were before. The unmarried girls in their late teens and one of the older boys actually started a community school to educate the younger children in the area. Even though things weren’t ideal, the people came together and made the best of it. When I heard my great aunts and uncles tell their stories, they spoke of these times fondly and with smiles on their faces.
We all know what happened next though, Germany invaded Poland and Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. I’d have to say this is when the deep rooted love of our country sparked into action within my family. When many young men of The Greatest Generation were being drafted to fight, my grandfathers and great uncles were in the draft offices volunteering. Every single one of them. My Grandad Hurley was actually turned away, not because he was unhealthy but because he was a train engineer foreman. His position was considered to be too important to the war effort and was told to say where he was, so he did.
My grandmother and her sisters continued to keep the community school running and left only to to get college degrees and teaching credentials. When they finished every school day, they would walk to the local church in order to pray for their husbands, brothers, and other young men from the community for their safe return home. Most of the men did return. Others paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country, but instead of being laid to rest next to a fellow service member in a national cemetery they came home to be with family.
The Next Generation
You would think with the wounds of war running through a generation like my grandparents’ generation they would raise their own children to shy away from being patriotic and loving our country, but nothing could be further from the truth. My dad has actually told me stories of how Labor Day and Memorial Dad became almost as sacred in the Page household as Christmas and Easter. These national holidays weren’t just for taking a day off work and having a bar-b-que in your backyard. No, those were special days when his dad and uncles would get together and regale their glory days in the Ardennes or Iwo Jima, and my dad would just sit there and listen awestruck by their bravery and love for something bigger than themselves.
My dad eventually had his opportunity to serve our country. Towards the end of his senior year in high school, the draft for the Vietnam War was instituted. He admitted he was scared, but he didn’t fight the draft like so many other men in his generation did. The Army let him attend college and get his degree in electrical engineering. As soon as he graduated, he was on a Greyhound bus headed to basic training. Soldiers were so scared of being sent to Vietnam after finishing training, armed guards were placed at the doors of the barracks to deter runaways.
On the day when assignments were given, my dad was not sent to Vietnam but to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Army was going to use the engineering degree he had to make weapons for our soldiers to use. He never went over there, something he has always been grateful for but has also always regretted. He was willing to pay the ultimate price, but was never asked to.
Dad made sure to pass on the love of country on to the next generation. Some might say he did it a little too well because both his son and his daughter volunteered to join the Army when they became old enough to do so.
My brother served as an armorer at Ft. Lewis, Washington during President Clinton’s administration. He always told me, “If you want to know what real bureaucracy feels like, be a part of the military during peace time.” It drove him crazy that soldiers couldn’t get the right equipment or the right amount of it to properly train. Even so, he did his best and served with honor.
Since I grew up with all of these brave men in my life telling their stories, I wasn’t one of those women who ever shied away from joining the military. Deep down I always knew I was tough enough, but it still wasn’t what “little girls” were supposed to do. Besides, I was “too smart” to join the military. I was supposed to go to college, get a degree, get a good job, find a husband, and live the All-American life.
That all changed my senior year in high school on September 11, 2001. When those planes hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and crashed in that field in Pennsylvania, my generation felt the same call our grandparents did during World War II. We became very aware of how fragile our way of life truly was, and how vital it was that good men and women stand up to protect it.
My school sent everyone home early that day to spend time with family and friends. When I walked through the front door of our house, I saw my mom sitting in front of the TV crying saying, “They’re jumping. They have no hope left, so they’re jumping.” My eyes quickly shot to the TV and saw the horrid scenes of the Twin Towers surrounded by clouds of smoke.
Two months later an Army recruiter was in that same living room explaining to my mom why it was a good idea for me to sign-up rather than go to college first. Mom won that argument, but I did enlist a few years later as a combat medic and served in Afghanistan. Now I have stories of my own to share on Memorial Day and Labor Day.
For the Future
It’s taken me a long time to come up with a personal definition of the word patriotism because the word invokes such an emotional response from me. You see, too me patriotism is the sense of pride one feels when you see our flag flying high as the “Star Spangled Banner” is being played, and it is the answering the call to serve when our nation needs brave men and women to protect our way of life. It’s knowing that here, in this great nation, anyone who works hard enough can make a positive difference and find happiness.
My family and countless others have done just this throughout our nation’s history, and I know deep in my soul no matter what happens in our future, true patriots will continue to rise when our nation needs them most.