I've often written that you can't really appreciate America until you've lived away from her. Kind of a "you can't see the forest for the trees" kind of thing. You live in someone else's country and you quickly see how marvelous our great country is.
I missed being home during the 1976 American Bi-Centennial. I was stationed in Korea at the time. But Armed Forces Television kept us up to the date on the various doings throughout the year. I particularly remember a series of short subjects that NBC ran during the year. They were called "History Rocks" and they were meant to teach our children a bit of our history. (We could certainly use those little history lessons today.)
I remember having a rare weekend off as America celebrated her 200th birthday. So I took a bus from Kunsan Air Base, in the far south, all the way up to the capitol of Seoul. I took a room in the Hamilton Hotel, a rather run down military hotel in the heart of Seoul. Yongsan Air Base was nearby so I walked over to the base and had lunch in the enlisted club. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at many of the little street booths that lined the streets outside the base. Every Korean seemed to be selling little American flags, and paintings of George Washington, or the Washington D.C. skyline....no doubt appealing to G.I. homesickness and exploiting it for profit. But I also sensed a real joy the Koreans felt in sharing our American birthday. Many of those same street vendors had families who had fled south from their North Korean and Chinese invaders two decades past so they had a real appreciation that we were stationed in their country...enforcing a truce from a war that had never really been settled.
When I returned to my hotel room I turned on Armed Forces television and watched the Saturday night events that preceded the big day on Sunday. Being 13 hours ahead of New York City time, Armed Forces television had the luxury of time ...to record the events in Philadelphia and Boston and play them back for us serving overseas.
America back then was trying hard to heal herself; from Nixon's resignation, and from our withdrawal and the eventual fall of Vietnam. I guess the Bicentennial celebration was our way of saying, we're down now, but look how far we've come in 200 years....choosing to remember our triumphs instead of our defeats. And we seemed to need this celebration badly.
On Sunday evening I took a bus back down to Kunsan. As we travelled down that central corridor of the country I looked out on farmland, and on infant trees, planted to replace the thousands of trees the Japanese had cut down to fuel their war machine thirty years earlier, leaving the country bare and barren. I thought of how many Americans had died, at the Chosun Reservoir and elsewhere, to give these people breathing room....a chance to rebuild their nation. And I was so proud of my country...and I missed her dearly on this 4th of July.
The next morning I woke up early and went over to the chow hall for breakfast before I reported for duty. And as I sat and ate my SOS breakfast I joined with the other guys to watch the celebrations on Armed Forces television. As I watched the tall ships sail into New York harbor the chill bumps ran up my arms and I had never felt so proud of my country.
Perhaps the folks sitting harbor side there in New York were more joyful. Maybe their eyes danced in delight at the magnificent fireworks displays and maybe they heard "Stars and Stripes Forever" a little more clearly than I did. But I don't think they could have appreciated it nearly as much as I, as I sat there and missed and admired the country of my birth.
Happy 4h everyone.