Memorial Day 2003

By Bonnie Williams

Published in the Fairbanks Daily Miner

Fairbanks, Alaska

[email protected]

In company with many millions of Americans, I was born in another country. My land of birth was Denmark, then in its second of six years of occupation by Nazi Germany. While my parents were active in the resistance, my father often told me that their real hope for freedom lay elsewhere.

From April 9, 1940 until December 8, 1941, the prayers and hopes of the Danes (Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians, French, Poles, Austrians, Hungarians, Czechs, Greeks, Yugoslavians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Finns) lay in the will of the British to hold out long enough for the Americans to come into the war.

All knew that resistance wasn't enough. (Still, there was resistance in every occupied country.) All knew that, at best, the British might prevent invasion of their own land. Only the might and power of free America could actually roll back and destroy the evil that was Nazi Germany.

America is an extraordinary place, and too often, the vocal get so enthralled with self-hatred that they forget just how extraordinary, and just what the consequences of that extraordinariness inevitably has to be.

We're free. Really, truly free. That means we can both praise and criticize. And it means if "this way" doesn't work, we can - voluntarily, freely - drop it and try "that way." It means we all get to debate - before, during and after. It means we are able to learn from our mistakes, because we are free to discuss, to know, to study, and to change.

We are from everywhere. No other nation on earth can say that. Americans come from every nation, every nook and cranny, every tribe, clan, ethnicity, religion - of every continent on earth.

That means that where ever the crisis on earth - there are Americans who came from there, who speak that language, that dialect, who understand that culture, who have roots, pride and family still there.

It means something so elegantly simple: we are from everywhere, and so we will never let us hurt, destroy, conquer or occupy anywhere.

We are free enough to let everyone else be free, not just ourselves.

As history unfurls, other nations sense this.

The latest live in Iraq, but only last year it was Afghanistan. Once, it was Denmark.

Please God, they prayed in the night, please let the Americans come.

I read on BBC that Iraqi troops lined the road into Basra applauding the Marines. As Danes once stood in Copenhagen, cheering and waving US and British flags, honoring the liberators. Those who freed, cared for, and then went home, taking only memories and friendships.

My parents tried to emigrate starting in 1937. By 1939 it was too late. On May 5, 1945, the door of opportunity beckoned again. By roughly April 1947 we were on a ship, sailing for New York. Almost exactly five years from the day of arrival, my parents became citizens. My brother and I joined them in this precious status August 8, 1952, before a federal judge in the city of Los Angeles.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, where 84,700 of us enjoy living, there are Danish immigrants, a Norwegian brotherhood, a Chinese community, Filipino, Vietnamese, German, Swedish, Russian, Yugoslavian, Greek, Egyptian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Israeli, Japanese, Australian, British, African, Afrikaans ... Athabascan, Inuit, Aleut, Tlingit, Haida, Yupik, Navajo, Apache, Kiowa ... you name it, we've got a few here too, and sometimes, a lot more than just a few.

We are a little of everywhere, each of us richer for the incredible variety that surrounds and contributes to each of our lives. A little stronger, too, for our loyalty is not just to a narrow spectrum, an infinitesimal slice of the vast array of mankind. Here in this nation, this state, this community, here we are loyal to that larger concept: America.

That means that while each of us takes pride in personal bloodlines and ancestral accomplishment, all of us gather our greater pride in the ideas that formed and continue to drive this extraordinary nation.

It means that tonight, someone somewhere is praying that we will come because we are their one great hope. Somewhere else tonight, another is giving thanks to God, that Americans came.

It means that, all these fifty-eight years later, I still remember my first American. He wore a khaki uniform, drove a Willys jeep, shared a Hershey bar. Decent. Kind. Strong. Friendly. He, another GI and their English comrades sent letters once they'd gotten home, and today, two still exchange Christmas greetings with my mother.

I remember my first American, warmly, happily, gratefully. Long after we've all forgotten every protester's angry sign, I guarantee you, there will be an Iraqi, remembering his or her first American, too, warmly, happily, gratefully.

What a terrible world it would be, without Americans.