Self-Sacrifice is at the Heart of Patriotism

It was a chilly spring day in March and my family and I were at our favorite Army Navy store. I was leaning against the counter wondering when my younger brothers would finally be done picking out a new cap gun. It was at this moment of boredom when the door swung open and a tall, slender gentleman walked in. I, being my curious self, instantly looked up and immediately noticed that he was wearing a POW hat. I expressed my gratitude for his service and asked him about his hat. His story that followed was unexpected. He informed me that he had been a prisoner in one of the harshest camps in the Vietnam War, Hanoi Hilton. He told me how he had been tortured, including having his eye poked out with a smoldering wire and being set on fire. Having eaten rice for every single meal, the smell of it made him sick. However, the words which are etched into my memory is when he said that he was honored to have been able to suffer for this nation.

Later, as I reflected on this hero’s story, the truth dawned on me. America isn’t great because of her natural resources or the original nationality of her inhabitants. America is great because of her citizens’ resolve to defend her values of freedom and justice for all. America is exceptional because of this self-sacrificing spirit of her people. It was this spirit that inspired a young man by the name of Nathan Hale to declare in front of his executioners, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” This same spirit of self-sacrifice led Lincoln to abolish the monstrous evil of slavery, led Susan B. Antony to prefer jail over voting inequality, and led Martin Luther King Jr. in his quest for civil rights.

Yes, it is true that all those characters are remembered in the history books, but it is equally true that this spirit of self-sacrifice is found in the soul of every patriot. These patriots have the courage to protect their fellow citizens as police officers, rescue them as firefighters, heal them as doctors, employ them as business owners, comfort them as pastors, and make the

ultimate sacrifice for their freedom as members of the armed forces. We probably won’t ever know the names of many of these citizens, but they are the genuine heroes who make our nation the greatest on earth. For example, you probably haven’t heard the name Kendrick Castillo before. Kendrick was an 18-year-old student at Highlands Ranch School in Colorado. May 7, 2019, began as any ordinary day, especially for the British Literature class. Suddenly, a gunman burst into the room with his pistol blazing. Without hesitating, Kendrick rushed the gunman and tackled him. This action gave his classmates enough time to escape into safety. Unfortunately, Kendrick was fatally wounded while performing this selfless act of bravery. He gave his life for his classmates and fellow citizens. It doesn’t matter what your occupation or age is; anyone can possess this spirit of self-sacrifice. After all, Kendrick was just a teenager, yet he made the ultimate sacrifice for his friends.

While most of us probably won’t ever be called to sacrifice our lives for others, each of us can continue to make America the greatest nation on earth by standing up for our values and serving our fellow citizens. In a time when our country seems more divided than ever, we need to remember what makes us Americans. We need to stand up for the rights of all citizens enshrined in our Constitution. Ultimately, we need to carry and pass on this spirit of self-sacrifice to the next generation. As President Reagan said, “If we love our country, we should also love our

countrymen.”

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