I was honored to give the Veterans Day address at John Adams Academy charter school. I focused on the connection between patriotism and military service. The following is an abridged version of my speech.
Dr. Gary Houchens, an education professor at Western Kentucky University, recently wrote a great essay on patriotism, which he said is based on the key belief that America’s Founding was a good thing.
We believe, he explained, that the events of 1776, the subsequent effort to create the U.S. Constitution, and the next 244 years of trying to help the U.S. live up to its founding ideals are a positive development in human political and social history.
That means that we have faith in the core principles of the Founding, including dignity of the individual, rule of law, equal opportunity and the opportunity for all individuals to excel through hard work, determination, and innovation.
Importantly, Dr. Houchens emphasized that these beliefs do not mean that we neglect the many way that we have failed to live up to our Founding principles. In fact, he says that the story of extending basic political rights and equal opportunity to all Americans is a critical part of our history.
He makes the final important point that while we may come from different backgrounds, we share a common bond as Americans, based on our Founding principles. There is no America, he said, when there is nothing that unifies us beyond our different identities and divisions.
Hiroshi Miyamura is perfect example of this American patriotism.
Born in 1925 in Gallup, New Mexico, Hiroshi’s parents had a small diner and they and their seven children lived in the diner’s basement. Because his friends couldn’t pronounce his name, he took the nickname “Hershey,” like the chocolate bar.
When World War II came, and despite the removal of most Japanese Americans to internment camps, Hershey wanted to do two things: prove he was a man and prove that he was an American.
He joined the ROTC in high school. By the time he was sent to Europe, the war had ended. He stayed in the Army and was sent to Korea at the start of the Korean War.
He was the squad leader of a machine gun unit in April 1951 when his position was attacked by an overwhelming force of Communist Chinese.
He manned his machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. He ordered his squad to withdraw while he stayed behind to render his gun inoperative. He then fought in hand-to-hand combat and made it to another machine gun emplacement.
When the intensity of the Communist attack grew, Hershey yelled to his comrades, “You guys get out of here!” He stayed and covered their withdrawal with fire from his machine gun. Then the gun jammed.
Hershey fired from his rifle. Then he threw grenades. Then hand-to-hand combat ensued. He killed more than 50 of the enemy single-handed. One enemy solider threw a grenade at him, sending shrapnel into his leg. Yet, he kept fighting, but he eventually collapsed from loss of blood and exhaustion.
He was captured by the Communists and forced marched 300 miles to a POW camp, where he spent the next two years.
In July 1953, Hershey was released from the camp when the armistice was signed. He stood 5 foot 10 inches and weighed less than 100 pounds.
When he entered the American base at Freedom Village in the Demilitarized Zone, tears streamed down his face when he saw the American flag.
At the Freedom Village, he was told that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. When he set foot back in America at the docks in San Francisco, he said: “I’m happy to be back. This is the most wonderful country in the world.”
Hershey, who is now 95 years old, told the Los Angeles Times that as the truck in which he was sitting crossed the bridge into the Freedom Village, “All I can remember is seeing a big U.S. flag flying in the breeze, and I just concentrated on that flag. That was such a wonderful sight, to see the Star-Spangled Banner fluttering in the breeze.”
So as we honor our veterans on Veterans Day, let us also remember that it is the patriotic love for America, love of the principles that undergird our country, and love of the freedoms that stem from those principles that form the foundation for our armed forces members’ service to our nation.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He served as an officer in the California State Military Reserve.