Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light… what so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming. Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight… We all know those words and the song they belong to. It’s America’s song – our national anthem. And these words aren’t just a marching tune we expect to hear at a parade or a sporting event. The lyrics were inspired by Francis Scott Key in 1812 and were written originally as a poem called The Defense of Fort McHenry. It’s the music ingrained in my very soul, and the most favorite score and rhyme this cowboy ever listens to (closely followed by my Marine Corps Hymn, of course).
July 4 is the day we celebrate this nation’s independence from the mother land, England. Even in the earliest days, our people were strong and considered themselves to be independent. Through the years, we have had scrapes around the world, and even when we got a few bumps and bruises, our ancestors never gave up on the idea of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom of each one of us to be an individual unto ourselves. Members of a common society, however, with the ability to think and act on our own.
This month will be a new test for drivers, as we have survived the virus, managed to source food and water from the wasteland (commonly referred to as restaurants before), and some of us have even found ourselves caught up in civil insurrections in this nation’s larger cities and on their highways. As I always say, “If this job were easy, everyone would be doing it.” At the time of this writing I’m reminded of an old radio skit done during the war years of the 1940s, when most servicemen wrote letters home to their loved ones, telling them about their experiences overseas. Lots of them were addressed to a sweetheart, but they were shared with the whole family or, in some cases, the entire community.
Let’s say it was back in the “olden days” – that time before the Internet. A time when everyone did their part to ensure the safety and security of all the American people. That included their friends, family, and yes, total strangers. America has not only fought for our own independence from the King of England, but against injustice all over the globe. There was a time when men of all stripes volunteered to defend this nation and the principals it stood for. When the men marched off to war in the 1940s, the women stepped up and took their place on the home front. America has never been a “us versus them” kind of place. It’s unfortunate that the schools of today are failing the students by not teaching all of our history.
My grandmother, who was a housewife raising three children, left her family to become a riveter at the airplane factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan – a place later to be known as Willow Run. My mother and her sisters spent a time living with family and friends while her mother, my grandmother, was serving the war effort. The men who were too old or not able to go overseas and fight, fought here at home. Everyone pitched in and fought for the cause of freedom.
I grew up hearing the stories of the 2nd World War and the Korean conflict. This was during the 60s, a time when this country endured an entire decade of war. A time when people forgot the sacrifice their parents and grandparents had made. Those sacrifices are the bedrock that make us the United States of America.
As a young teenager, I listened to the news programs at night, and every day they started the newscast with the body count from Vietnam. The media spent more time filming protesters in the anti-war movement than they ever did filming the efforts made by our military. I had many cousins and neighbors in that conflict, so we listened closely, fearing their names might be called. Most of them came home safely, having served their time, and quietly took up life where they left off when Uncle Sam called. That was a time when, if you flew on an airplane in uniform, our servicemen were subjected to disrespect and abuse. But, still, the people came from around the world to our shores. Why, you ask? Because they, too, wanted to become members of this great nation.
The words of our great anthem start with, “By the dawn’s early light.” How often do we as drivers get to see the earliest rays of daylight? Each morning offers each of us that opportunity if we are willing to seek it out. Then, after a good day’s work, we are still able to enjoy the last shreds of a setting sun, hence, “The twilight’s last gleaming.” Sure, today we can light up the night with chicken lights and speed safely into the night with high-beam directional headlights, but in another time we would have set out the porch light or a lantern to direct weary travelers to safety.
We, the drivers of today, are the weary travelers. We assume every task designated to us and carry them out with the highest level of professionalism. And again, you ask why? Because it is in our nature. If I were to take a survey of all drivers on the road today, I believe the percentage of ex-military would be staggering. And that number would also be true for police, firefighters and EMTs. The step from military service over to community service is not that far. All of us have witnessed the dedication the American trucking industry has been contributing in keeping this nation and its people fed, clothed and, yes, stocked with paper. America is truly a wonderful place to live, to work, and to raise the next generation. I’m sure by now some of you are wondering what this has to do with trucking and the lives of drivers. Don’t hang up the phone or change the station yet, I’m getting to that.
Like many of you, I am a creature of habit. This is something I learned in the Corps – the United States Marine Corps. I am vigilant at watching my surroundings, taking care to assess who and what is in my space. I’m setting in the T/A Truck Stop in Effingham, IL, watching trucks roll past and noticing how many are decorated with some memorabilia of America. I’m proud to report, most have some kind of patriotic marker. I’ve seen everything from the Stars and Stripes in their window to military hats with their branch or unit insignia. You can rest assured patriotism is alive and well in our industry.
In the short time I have been setting here, I have seen a couple complete units wrapped in red, white and blue. This month is the time of year we gather to celebrate the founding of this nation. This year may prove to be more difficult, given the whole COVID-19 thing, but we will gather to celebrate, nonetheless. There will be parades, high school bands, old men riding on floats, and young military members in uniform, marching down the main streets of our hometowns. Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray!!
In 2018, me and my family were the guests of our leader in the Nation’s capital. Like so many of you, I have driven by the Capital a couple times in my travels, but this time I stopped. Not only did I stop, but, with invitation in hand, I was allowed to participate in the Fourth of July celebrations on the South Lawn of the White House, honoring our military members, past and present. I never knew they were so well-informed as to my whereabouts until then. The Secret Service is mighty thorough in their investigations of prospective guests! They did ask me about a wild weekend in San Diego back in 1976. “Who, me?” I said with a look of surprise. Regardless of your political leaning, the excitement of attending a party with the President of the United States and First Lady, well, yup, that’s pretty dang special.
We were treated to an entire day of festivities. There was music by all branches of the military, both concert and marching bands. The entertainment lasted until dusk. While there, I got to talk with and meet many of the warriors of this last generation. Every time I’m around these guys I can’t help but be proud of their accomplishments.
During the day I found a young marine who had lost both legs and part of one hand. He introduced me to his two beautiful young daughters (who shyly hid behind their hero father) and his wonderful wife. After some small talk, he said he may have lost his limbs in the war, but he knows because of it the world will be a better place for his girls to grow up. What do you say to someone who has given so much for our freedom? I spent the last hour of the day watching the sun set over the Potomac River, and thinking back over my life, here in these United States of America.
How fortunate I was to have been born on a dirt road in a small township of Michigan. I attended 13 years of education in our local school. Then I ran off and joined the military, hoping to see the world, which I did (mostly on foot). The Marines calls that the Shoestring Express. I think they told me, “If you ain’t shot up, you ain’t riding in the truck.” Now you know the real reason I learned to drive trucks. We all get tired of walking at some point. Having served my time in the military, I came home, married the love of my life, and took up trucking – a profession that has provided my family with a good lifestyle. There was just something about that footloose lifestyle and the ability to move about freely that attracted me to driving.
This country really is the land of opportunity and the home of milk and honey. How sweet it was to be setting on the lawn of the “People’s House” in our Nation’s capital with Mr President. Does life get any better than that? Then we saw the most spectacular display of fireworks I have ever seen. I always thought Disney World put on the best show – I was wrong. Just in case you’re curious, yes, I did consume my share of ice cream at the picnic, as well.
My family and I spent a number of days in DC seeing and visiting most of the monuments. I’ve always wanted to go to the “Wall” so we did. Outside of going to the Oval Office, my time spent quietly setting and thinking at the Wall and visiting the Vietnam Memorial was the best. I couldn’t help but notice the men who stood silently touching a name or looking away to a far-off place in their mind. Tears come easy there, and no one is ashamed for them. It is a healing place, and, to some, it calms the terrors in their mind and those ugly memories tucked away and covered by years of life. To the men and women who come home, it’s hard to justify why some of us live and some others are lost to the fight. How often people forget the price paid for our freedom and the way of life we so amply enjoy.
I mentioned the Oval Office earlier and, yes, we did get to go there. A very special shout-out and thank you to the folks who made it possible. I happen to know they read 10-4 Magazine! We were given a special tour and time to explore the Eisenhower Building next door to the White House. For those who don’t know, that’s the building that houses the Vice President’s office and all the President’s cabinet members. This magnificent marble building is the place where our government does their day to day work. I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of pride as I walked these halls.
I stopped at the door to Mr. Trump’s office and just marveled in reverence to the power that room holds. That single room has been occupied by the most powerful men in the world. It is not the person who sets behind the desk that makes it impressive, but rather the ideals it represents. It’s one thing to see it in pictures, but it is all together something different to be standing there. All I could think of at the time was how far I have traveled in my life. Only in America can a small boy travel from the dirt roads of my childhood to the greatest hall of government – the hall leading to our President’s office. In life, there are times when each of us must take stock of who we are and what we’ve done. This was one of those times.
There are no photos because you’re not allowed to take photographs inside the West Wing of the White House. The only place you can take photos is in the Press Pool. In this time of political unrest, no matter who you support for the next election, the structures of our republic will remain housed in these permanent stones. I was raised in a time when school children started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance and a stern dose of patriotism. The Stars and Stripes were displayed in every classroom. I hope each of you will take the time to educate yourselves as to the true history of this nation and then pass it along to the next generation so they, too, can know what a wonderful country we live in.
My time in Washington DC ended without fanfare, but I still hear the bands playing music every time I see “Old Glory” raised in the morning, and to see her flowing freely in the wind brings a lump to my throat. Patriotism is not something you are born with, and it’s not an item to be purchased by the rich (or anyone else). We have many songs here in America that thrill and encourage people around the world. Songs about snow-capped mountains, fields of waving grain, even two guys running illegal beer from Texas to Georgia.
I would like to salute all of our military men and women who served in uniform. It is because of your service I am able to write this article free from persecution or threat of imprisonment.
May each of you thank your lucky stars to be living in the greatest land ever given to mankind. As you look to the heavens and gaze upon the Red, White and Blue, know that’s OUR FLAG, and it’s a mighty flag. Old Glory doesn’t flow in the wind, but rather it moves by the last breath of every patriot who gave up their life fighting for it. Let that sink in. Speed safely out there, drivers, and I salute you for your service.