"Can I see your sword, grandpa?" "Yes," my Grandpa Hazlett would respond. Then while pointing at his Marine officer sword display on the way, he would say "see, there it is. Now you've seen it." This senario was repeated at least once every time we visited. At first it was just a cool sword, but as I grew older I began to realize what it meant.
That sword along with medals, photos, dress uniform, the close-cut Marine haircut (which he continued to wear as long as I knew him) and the American flag which was always flying outside, were all symbols. They were a symbol of a man who dedicated years of his life to the United States Marines and his country. They were a symbol of a man who served tours in Vietnam, far away from his family. A family and wife, who likely wondered and often worried that they might never see him again. They were a symbol of a patriot who loved his country and his family and fought to protect our freedom.
My Grandpa Hayden had similar symbols, though they were often less visable. There was a flag and an unmistakeable love for this country. Once, however, I interviewed grandpa about WWII. He took out an old ammo can, openned it, and produced a scrap of metal. He talked about his service in the engine room of the battleship USS Idaho. One day, on his way up to the deck, a kamakazi pilot dove out of the sky and aimed for the hull. A deck gunner spun around just in time and blast him out of the sky. The plane was so close that parts of the plane were scattered all over the deck. "That piece of metal you are holding is a peice of that plane," my grandfather said.
This son of a Swedish imigrant farmer was thrust into one of the worlds most terrible wars to fight for the freedom of his family's new country. That piece of Japanese plane I held was a symbol of yet another great man and Navy sailor who took his place in the fight for freedom even at the repeated risk of his life. During his service, he spent countless hours in the engine room, listening to depthcharges and torpedoes, and wondering if the next explosion might be the last he heard. His ship provided altillery support for the Marine assault on Iwa Jima.
Both my grandfathers were themselves symbols of freedom, sacrifice, and love. They helped protect our freedoms and shape this country and the world. And their service helped shape them and thier posterity. Being proud to be an American wasn't just a line from a Lee Greewood song, it was a character trait that was infered as the grandson of men who served their country in war time.
On our great nation's birthday this year, I can't help reflecting on all of the men and women who have sacrificed so much to make and keep us free. I am pround to have a personal family legacy of swords and sailor hats and the great men who taught me what it means to be free.