Remember when the Fourth of July meant baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet? Growing up in the seventies, the Fourth meant all the variety shows on TV would be trotting out Kate Smith to sing the song that made her a legend and got America through a lot of dark days in World War II – ‘God Bless America.’
Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America’ sent chills down my spine as a ten-year-old in 1976, and when I revisited her amazing love song to our country on YouTube before I wrote this piece, it made me cry so much that I had to walk away for a while before I could finish.
Irving Berlin wrote ‘God Bless America’ while he was in the Army in World War I. He tried to get it published then, but no one would have it. Twenty years later, in 1938, Kate Smith recorded the song for the 20th anniversary of the end of that war.
It became so beloved that when President Franklin Roosevelt introduced Kate Smith to the King and Queen of England, he did it by saying, “Your Majesties, this is Kate Smith. This is America.”
When World War II broke out, Kate Smith sang it every week on her radio show, and my grandparents told me that hearing her sing that song gave the nation hope when the outcome of the war was in question. My great-uncles who were born in Lebanon were off fighting the war, and my family had fully embraced their adopted country, so hearing that song held a special place in their hearts.
My son served eight years in the Army and deployed to Iraq three times. Ryan told me from the time he was a little boy that he wanted to be a soldier. I used to tell him stories of my great uncles who served in World War II – Lebanese immigrants who adopted this great country and served willingly when their country needed young men to defend it.
My father was in the military, his brothers were as well. Military service is something that helps a lot of young men and women grow up and find their way in the world.
My son, like every other soldier serving during this time of war, has a lot to live for. He has a beautiful family. His daughters, Aurora, Zoe, Gwen, are the lights of his life. He has grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends, who all prayed every day for his safe return. He has love for his country and told me he would rather fight for and defend it in a distant land than at a bus stop in Downtown El Paso. He has finished college and wants to go on to law school so he can follow in my father’s footsteps by practicing law.
I hope you enjoy the video of Kate Smith singing the song that stirred my ten year old heart and made my grandparents cry with pride for the country they loved, the country they instilled pride and love for in me, and the country that so many soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world love and put their lives on the line for each day.
Watch it this Fourth of July and try not to cry.
I’ll end this column the way I ended every letter to my son, Ryan.
I love you and miss you so much, my darling son. Pray, as I pray for you every moment.