One of the largest groups of surviving World War II veterans gathered yesterday at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., the town that lost more men in the invasion, per capita, of any place in America. As the youngest of these veterans now approach their 80s, the rest of us Americans are running out of time to thank them.
How, indeed, does America go about thanking a D-Day veteran? Does the everyday American citizen even pause to reflect upon the ultimate sacrifice made by so many on what author Cornelius Ryan termed "The Longest Day"? In the aftermath of the "dumbing down" of America's public school curriculum - one social studies textbook covers the entirety of the Vietnam War in three paragraphs - how many young people, or their teachers, know what caused World War II, the dates, the leaders, the combatants or why it's termed "the last good war?"
It was termed that because World War II was a simple matter of good versus evil: the good guys versus the bad guys, democracy versus totalitarianism, freedom versus dictatorship, humanity versus the Holocaust.
It was simply a matter of winning. At any cost.
After the war, in 1945, the state of New Hampshire chose as its motto, "Live Free or Die," which stemmed from a toast made by a most famous Revolutionary War hero, General John Stark: "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils."
But interestingly, in 1977, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled, in Wooley versus Maynard, that the state of New Hampshire could not prosecute Jehovah's Witnesses who covered that motto on their license tags because it clashed with their ideological point of view. Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing for the majority, held that an individual's freedom of expression was more important than the state's interests. Burger likened the decision to the 1943 West Virginia State Board of Education versus Barnette, which ruled that Jehovah's Witnesses children did not have to salute the American flag in public school.
Currently, less than one-half of 1 percent of the population of New Hampshire declares themselves to be Jehovah's Witnesses, while more than 99.5 percent of the state's population does not belong to that organization.
Folks, I have a big, big problem with the Supreme Court's rulings in those cases. I don't care what you are - Jehovah's Witnesses or Methodist or Catholic or Holy Roller Coaster Screamer - if you choose to live in a state that says "Live Free or Die" either support it or pack your dadgum bags and leave.
If you're a Jehovah's Witness or Baptist or Presbyterian or Jewish and choose not to salute our nation's flag, please catch the next flight to Iran, Sudan, China or North Korea.
You're an American, right? Well, act like one. It constitutes the very height of hypocrisy to live in this nation and refuse to support it. If you don't like the way things are done by majority, move on. Find a place you do like. If there isn't one, perhaps you should start to realize that maybe you're the one out of step, not the rest of the folks in the whole marching band.
When America reached the point where political correctness and warm, fuzzy, touchy-feely desires not to offend anyone began taking precedence over common sense is when the problems, which today threaten to overwhelm us, began.
Thus, as I reflect on D-Day and the sacrifice borne by so many for us, it seems to me the best way we can thank those who died, those who survived, and the remaining members of our "greatest generation" is to preserve the America they fought to save. It is the only way, actually, to honor them. To let this nation deteriorate into socialism for the sake of political correctness would be to desecrate the flag the Jehovah's Witness kid refuses to salute, and to brand as farcical, New Hampshire's bold and official motto.
Many, many Americans have died so that we might live free in a democracy where the majority opinion rules. The best way we can honor their sacrifice is to assure that freedom is not shackled, and eventually usurped, by political correctness.
When I was a kid, citizens either supported our nation, went to jail or left the country. Like that good old-time religion, that was good enough for me back then - and it's good enough for me today.
May God bless, and help, the United States of America.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.