thing I remember ever seeing with my baby eyes
was the 1947 New York City Blizzard. I've always loved
snow. In the 1940s we lived in the
teaming tenements filled with WWII Jewish
refugees on the upper panhandle of Manhattan.
No one spoke English there in those days; but
everyone knew that our President was Harry
Truman. Everyone was learning English and
learning to be an American. Mothers
learned English and how to cook like an American
by using the 1948 Fanny Farmer cookbook (perhaps free
with a few dollars purchase at the
supermarket) that had simple down to Earth
recipes for real American-mom-food like meatloaf
and mashed potatoes bathed in gravy, green pea
soup swimming with hot dog slices, and fried
chicken with corn on the cob dripping with
butter and salt. (And now in our 60s, we all have high cholesterol
and heart conditions, sigh).
We were immigrant family
baby boomers who were reared by our European WWII survivor parents to believe that "There is
nothing more precious than American Freedom!"
We were first generation Americans; this was OUR
country. As teenagers were were hit in the
head with rocks thrown by bigots as we marched
on civil rights picket lines. And we grew
up in time to patriotically volunteer to serve
our country in Vietnam. We BELIEVED in
America. While other kids, who took their
freedom for granted, lied and said they were gay
or ran away to Canada to avoid serving, we lied
and said we were straight so that we could
serve. When they burned the American flag
in protest, I saw that and said, "Its time to
pay my country back for my family's freedom,"
and signed up.
In my youth I was called a
"damn Jew," a "Homo," and a "N lover," but
I was always more American than those who could
use such hate filled words. The second
thing I remember seeing was the Fourth of July
Fireworks at Orchard Beach in the Bronx.
I've always loved fireworks.
When I finally got to put
on a uniform and salute our flag, I was so
thrilled I got goose bumps. My mother was
horrified when I joined up; but when she got
that first boot camp photo of me in uniform in
front of the American flag, her heart nearly
burst with pride. "Look! MY boy, an
American Sailor!" She
kept that silver framed photo on display for the rest
of her life.
As I gratefully left boot
camp, one of the last things I got was the
"freebie medal" -The National Defense
Service Medal (NDSM). I hadn't done
anything yet. I had no clue what that was
for. But, I pinned it on my puffed out
chest when I went to visit my old dad, proudly
wearing my uniform. When he saw the medal,
his eyes bugged out and he said, "Ach, you heff
a medal already!!" I was just a two
striper fresh out of boot camp; but as far as he
was concerned I was already a general who had
single handedly taken out an entire German
division with a machine gun and a hand grenade.
Then, I knew what that medal was for; not for
me, but for parents to see. Like mom, he
felt profound pride in his American son.
I ended up serving for ten
years, first in the Navy and later in the Army
Reserve, leaving as a Sergeant First Class.
I had to hide who I was every single day or face
Dishonorable Discharge as a homosexual. I
don't regret a day of it.
For me, a first generation
American, 'American Freedom' meant that it did
not matter who you were, you could become
anything you wanted to be here in this country.
You could begin as a poor barefoot boy or girl and grow
up to become president or a general.
That wasn't really true when I was born.
Black Americans were segregated, denied
education, and held to menial jobs; Native
Americans and Hispanic Americans were similarly
held down; women were expected to stay home and
cook and clean without pay or rights; and gay
Americans were totally invisible, living in the
shadows, unmentionable. But, the promise was there, even
then. Two years after I was born,
President Harry S. Truman integrated our armed
forces by Executive Order. It took another
twenty years for that to begin to result in
equal rights and the Voting Rights Act; and
sixty years until Barack Obama was elected
President of the United States of America.
And yet, after all that
time, a political party exists that
wants to deny rights and jobs and freedom to
some Americans, simply because of who they are
and how poor they are. They
want to reverse American progress and go back to
a time when people of color could not
aspire to being more than servants; when the
ideas of a female president or black president
were unthinkable; when our military was
segregated by race and gender, and patriots who
were gay were prohibited. Every single day they
dare to dishonor the President, simply and
purely because of who he is. They dishonor
the sacred right to vote of hard working
Americans, because they are poor, young, old, of
color, and favor American progress. They
don't want anyone unlike themselves to have
healthcare nor education nor enough money to buy
food and pay rent because, well, all of that
would help the American economy grow; and their
wealth depends on the persistence of poverty.
They twist freedom of belief into hate mongering
against anyone different from them, exactly as
America's enemies, past and present, have.
In short, they dishonor American freedom.
My parents were Holocaust
refugees who came here for freedom. I
didn't take that freedom for granted. In
my small way, I strove to enhance it by
marching, voting, and volunteering to serve my
country. I'm a proud patriot. I'm a
gay veteran senior citizen. Long ago, my
parents fled for their lives from Nazi Germany
where those in power made people like them or
their children, Jews
and homosexuals, religious scapegoats for
economic and other problems, taking away all
their rights. America, the bastion of
freedom, came to the rescue. Have we now
forgotten what we fought for? Have we
forgotten that greed and hate end in
catastrophe? I should not have to keep
fighting and writing for freedom anymore.
But, I do, because I'm a patriot who still
believes in America.