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An Unrepentant Patriot

The first 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.

  2013 Gay Military Signal