Veterans Day, which we celebrated on November 11th, is not only a national holiday where we honor those men and women who served in our armed forces, but it is also an intensely personal day where family and friends remember their loved ones who wore the uniform.
My father is 88 years old and he served in the United States Coast Guard during the early 1950s aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Casco, which was based in Boston. At Thanksgiving last year, I had one of those moments with my father that people often talk about—finding out something totally out of the blue about your parent’s service that you never knew before.
When I visited my mom and dad for the holiday, I brought a DVD copy of the great movie “The Finest Hours,” which stars Chris Pine who also plays Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies.
“The Finest Hours” is about the greatest rescue in Coast Guard history. Two giant oil tankers break in two on the same day in a terrible storm off the New England coast.
When I told my dad about what the movie was about, I was amazed to learn that his ship was part of the Coast Guard flotilla sent to rescue the crew on one of the ships, the Fort Mercer.
I had never known about that episode in my dad’s life. And when he watched the movie, with its recreation of the violent giant waves, it was like he was back on the deck of his ship. My mother asked, “Daddy, was it really like that?,” to which my father then detailed how his ship was tossed.
It was an amazing moment, and it made me so proud of my father and his service.
On my wife’s side of the family, her nephew was struggling to find direction in his life. He decided to join the Army, which was not a popular decision with his father, my wife’s brother, who is an old Sixties Berkeley anti-Vietnam War protestor.
For many years, I have served as the president of the Army’s Community Relations Board for Northern California (I had served as a captain in the California State Military Reserve for five years), and I introduced my brother-in-law to our local Army battalion commander. After a spirited discussion, my brother-in-law came around to supporting his son’s decision to enlist.
His son became an Army intelligence analyst, got his college degree, and after his enlistment he became a deputy sheriff in Idaho.
And just two months ago, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Idaho Army National Guard. And there was no one prouder at that commissioning ceremony than my brother-in-law, the old hippie, who probably never thought that he would be taking videos of his son in an Army officer’s uniform.
While my wife’s nephew was able to take advantage of the opportunities and benefits of military service, too many of our nation’s schools block military personnel from informing students about the facts of service. There are some schools, however, that proudly embrace patriotism and our nation’s military.
In my upcoming book entitled Choosing Diversity I profile innovative charter schools around the country. One of the charters in my book is John Adams Academy, which celebrates our national heritage. The school, located outside Sacramento, says that one of its goals is to “nourish freedom and instruct others in the principles of liberty and how to maintain it by teaching [students] ‘how’ to think.”
When I interviewed Dr. Dean Forman, John Adams Academy’s co-founder, for my book, he told me the story of a young alumnus of the school who heard about a young veteran at his college who was suffering from mental and emotional trauma. The John Adams alumnus engaged the young veteran personally and then started a club on campus to address those who served our country and who were suffering from some form of trauma so they could once again find purpose in their lives.
Dr. Forman told me that when this young alumnus told him about what he did, he thought that this is exactly the type of person he wanted John Adams Academy to produce—a leader who would be able to serve his community and our nation.
I had the pleasure of speaking at this year’s Veterans Day event at John Adams Academy, and it was so inspiring to see young students come up to the podium and speak so eloquently about the heroic service of our country’s veterans. It gave me hope that the selflessness and sacrifice of our older generations will not only be remembered by our young people, but that they will seek to emulate them.
Lance Izumi is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of the Center for Education, and the Koret Senior Fellow in Education.