By Joyce Coronel
While most Americans recall exactly what they were doing the moment they heard about the devastating attack on the World Trade Center, our family’s story is somewhat unique. We awoke that morning to our neighbor, a World War II combat veteran, pounding on the front door of our home in Warner Ranch.
My husband and I staggered toward the noise, peered out through the peephole and saw Phil Galante standing there looking quite agitated. We flung open the door, wondering what the heck was going on.
“We’re under attack!” he cried. “Turn on your TV!” And with that, Phil turned and hurried back across the street.
Of course, we were shocked when we saw what was unfolding. At the time, our five sons ranged in age from 2 to 13 years old. Johnny, a kindergartener at Kyrene de la Mariposa, stunned us with his innocent question later that afternoon when we were still glued to the television. He was playing with his brothers but from time to time, glanced over at the set.
“Can’t they stop those planes?” he asked plaintively. At age 6, he didn’t understand he was watching continuous replays of that horrifying moment when the plane crashed into the second tower. We turned off the television and explained. “You’re safe,” we told him. “That happened far away from us. It’s over now and they are going to catch the people who did this.”
Remember all the American flags? That sense of America united against a common threat? The fervor of patriotism, the deep desire to defend our nation against a force of evil? Johnny and his cousins were only little boys in those years, but they took note. They were deeply impacted by the war stories Phil Galante told, stories of shivering on cold nights, of dodging bullets amid the deafening roar of gunfire.
One cousin, Michael, became a U.S. Army Ranger and served two tours overseas (we’re not allowed to say where but let’s just say it’s not a touristy spot.) Another cousin, Christian, became a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet and is now an Air Force helicopter pilot. And last month, Johnny was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
So when I hear older folks complain that the younger generation “just isn’t patriotic,” I must respectfully disagree.
Ask any parent of a son or daughter serving in the military and they’ll probably tell you of the mixed emotions that flood their hearts. It’s bittersweet; you’re extremely proud of the service to our country but you’re also scared. You don’t allow your mind to go into the what-ifs because it’s unfathomable. When Michael deployed overseas—twice—we held our breath. He’s finally back on U.S. soil and we are so very grateful.
Now we have a new homegrown hero to thank and pray for, one whose byline once appeared on the pages of Wrangler News.
A couple of weeks ago, a little white Toyota piled high with uniforms, sturdy boots and rucksacks pulled out of our driveway and headed toward the USMC headquarters in Quantico, Virginia. Tears rolled down my face as I watched the car disappear down the road. Johnny was on his way.
Later that morning, I was tidying up the house and came upon a letter from his platoon commander at the beginning of Officer Candidate School last summer. Addressed to all candidates, the letter was stern in tone and emphasized the Marine Corps’ values: honor, courage, and commitment.
“Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do,” the commander wrote. “Your character and conduct as a leader must always be above reproach…a lack of integrity will not be tolerated. You will make mistakes; own them and learn from them.” He also called on them to be “servant leaders” who understand it’s not about them—it’s about the team.
As I read through the letter, I couldn’t help but think that every American would benefit from such an exhortation. If each of us would embrace those values, I’d venture to say our families, our communities, our schools and our nation would be in far better shape.
We are blessed to have tens of thousands of men and women who have answered the call and dedicated themselves to defending the freedom we celebrate each year on Independence Day. So when those firecrackers light up the star-spangled sky this year, think of our military personnel and of those who have paid the ultimate price for our liberty. Wherever we are and whatever our role, we can all honor their sacrifice by endeavoring to serve others and live the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment.