JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Jimmy Stewart once said, “What’s wrong with wanting to fight for your country? Why are people reluctant to use the word patriotism?”
What would Stewart, who proudly wore the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, among other decorations, think of the term “patriotism” in 2016?
The United States seems to be filled with topics of division, especially during the 2016 political cycle. But, when did an emotional investment in our nation become one of those topics? Is it controversial to be patriotic?
As a military member, I’ve volunteered to serve and sacrifice for the greater good of the United States, however possible. Yet, it’s not hard to notice a division on the term “patriotism” in today’s society.
Stewart didn’t just believe in patriotism, he stood for it, too. In fact, he entered the military two months after winning an Academy Award in 1941 and before the country went to war. It was a different time, a different culture.
As the United States entered World War II, Hollywood executives stepped forward to aid the warfighter. Stars, like Charlie Chaplin, were sent across the country on war bond drives, patriotic movies, documentaries, and other films were produced, and some public figures even participated in USO shows abroad.
A number of stars, most notably Elvis Presley, enlisted into the military. However, nearly all of those individuals were put into roles that used their fame, and kept them away from actual combat. Still, patriotic forms of expression through actions remained.
For me, Stewart is a once in a generation kind of public figure. He was one of the most famous actors on the planet, who firmly held onto the idea of patriotism, and did not shy away from defending the country.
Entering the Army Air Corps at the age of 32, he was already a household name. As a famous actor, the public urged him not to volunteer for combat missions.
However, his patriotism weighed heavier than the pleas of millions. Stewart flew more than 20 combat missions into enemy territory as a command pilot. His missions included bombing raids in Berlin, Brunswick, Bremen, Frankfurt, and Schweinfurt.
By the end of World War II, Stewart had risen to the rank of colonel. He remained in the Air Force Reserve, and eventually became a brigadier general in 1959. In 1968, he retired from the Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and ultimately, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
To put it into today’s terms, it would be like Tom Hanks commissioning into the Air Force as a pilot prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
I’m singling out Mr. Hanks due to his celebrity status and not because of anything he’s done personally. However, what happened to celebrities like Jimmy Stewart? Are today’s celebrities morally enlightened in comparison of the folks from yesterday? Whether it be refusing to stand for the national anthem or whatever the case may be, I’d prefer a role model like Stewart.
Whatever patriotism means in 2016 is up for debate. Perhaps it’s the cynical Twitter age, or 24-hour news cycle that are reflections of our time. For me, what Stewart meant by “patriotism” doesn’t need labels to define it other than one: pride. Instead of patriotism being a dividing tool, it should be a uniting one.
I believe in a united America. Regardless of political affiliation, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or ability. During a time in our country when it’s difficult to find common ground with others, even while serving, perhaps remembering what makes America unique will help. That’s not only the America I believe in, but serve proudly.
The United States is the land of the free, and it only keeps that title as long as it’s also the home of the brave. You don’t need to be a household name, or Academy Award recipient to be remembered for your patriotic duty to serve in the nation’s military.
With Veteran’s Day around the corner, we’ll honor and thank all veterans. From prior service members like my father, to iconic figures like Jimmy Stewart, for their heroic service to our country by not only saying thank you, but never forgetting their dedication and patriotism.