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Do our children know all the words?

Schoolchildren of Waregem, Belgium, spend the better part of each year learning to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” in English. It is an 85-year-old tradition that reaches a crescendo every Memorial Day at Flanders Field American Cemetery, where 368 U.S. soldiers are buried. This year, nearly 3,000 visitors attended the service and heard the children sing – a remarkable phenomenon, considering those laid to rest there fell in battle more than 90 years ago. Meanwhile, in ancient towns scattered across northwestern France, nothing quite compares to the annual array of ceremonies that recognize the D-Day invasion of 1944. For a week or more before and after June 6 each year, men, women and children of all ages appear from every corner of Europe to see vintage World War II vehicles, motorcycles, tanks and landing crafts. They dress in authentic U.S. uniforms bearing the insignia of American military units. They present wreaths, say prayers and salute the fallen. U.S. flags fly high as parades, concerts, battle re-enactments, parachute jumps and other festivities honor the Allied troops who fought there 65 years ago. Last June, I returned to Europe for the first time since I served as an Army infantryman in the 1970s. I was certainly impressed, if not astonished, by the gratitude and respect for the U.S. military from the European citizenry. In Germany, local leaders expressed appreciation for U.S. installations and medical facilities. In France and Belgium, many residents can still remember the hope and relief U.S. soldiers delivered to their war-torn towns. They have passed those memories along to new generations, who keep the tradition alive. This all leaves me to wonder if we are doing enough to impart similar values to our own children and grandchildren in America. At a time when we have to debate school officials to start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance and question the lack of focus on U.S. war experiences in history textbooks, I think it is fair to ask if we, as veterans, are doing enough to pass along to young people our stories, our patriotism and our pride in military service. As a new school year begins, I implore my fellow Legionnaires to make themselves available to schools, Scouts, church groups and extracurricular programs for young people. U.S. children should know the lyrics to our National Anthem and how to proudly recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They should understand that freedom can never be taken for granted. From what I saw in U.S.-liberated Europe, such lessons are part of a time-honored cultural curriculum. The same could be true here if we take the initiative and show our own young people why Belgian children learn to sing our song.

 

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