This past weekend Friday I had the honor and privilege to tour America’s Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. This storied institution that has prepared thousands of American Patriots has been at the forefront of protecting and defending American’s freedoms and liberties since its founding in 1845.
My reason for touring the Naval Academy has to do with my son, Owen. He has determined that one of the options he would like to consider upon graduation from High School is to enter the Naval Academy and pursue a career in the Navy. At 14 he is four years away from graduation but never too far away from knowing his personal values and beliefs.
As we drove from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore we passed by a highway exit sign with the town name “Catonsville” imprinted upon it.
I made a mental note of it and my need to share with my son the family history that was, and is, connected with that Maryland community.
We spent a day in Baltimore and then, on Friday, we made our trek to Annapolis, Maryland. As we did I took a moment to share with Owen the story behind Catonsville and its connection to him and our family.
On May 17, 1968, nine men and women entered the Selective Service Offices in Catonsville, Maryland and removed 378 draft records, dumped them on the ground and burned them with homemade napalm as a protest against the Vietnam War.
One of those nine was my uncle, George Mische. George, along with Father Phillip Berrigan, were the main instigators of this protest which eventually resulted in the arrest, conviction and imprisonment of many involved with the protest — including my uncle.
I shared with Owen the impact of the aftermath of the action of the Catonsville Nine on the nation, as well as its impact on my own family as the FBI chased my uncle and other members of the Nine after they failed to report to prison and went underground.
Owen listened with interest and respect and reminded me I had shared this story him before.
Fast forward to later in the day as Owen and I toured the Naval Academy Museum and I came across the POW wristband of Senator John McCain.
As many online sources inform us, in October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a POW until 1973. McCain experienced severe torture and refused to be release early ahead of other American POWs.
His war wounds left him with lifelong physical injuries.
My Uncle George and Senator John McCain are, in my opinion, both American Patriots. That one fought a war and other protested it does not make one more patriotic than the other.
Throughout America and its history we have seen patriots stand on other sides of one another — each believing their actions and service were the manifestations of their patriotic duty.
Supporters, and opponents, of their actions have been just as vociferous in their defense of the actions of these patriots.
As my son and I shared dinner with a young Minnesota man, Louis Wohletz, at a local burger joint in Annapolis to learn more about his experience at the Naval Academy I was struck, again, by the diverse journey every American takes on their journey to being a Patriot.
Louis is an already accomplished young American whose service to his community began long before he was nominated and accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy.
His patient willingness to share more of his journey with my son meant a great deal to both of us.
The next day, as my son and I stood on the deck of the SS John Brown Liberty as we enjoyed a six hour cruise into American history, I reflected on the millions of American Patriots fought in World War II — the hundreds of thousands that gave the ultimate sacrifice–and what their service has meant to the life of my family.
It has meant freedom and liberty. It has meant this trip with my son. It has meant the life we have at home when we return.
So, too, did the service of my Uncle George — the service of Louis Wohletz — and every single American throughout our nation’s history.
Being an American Patriot is as diverse as America. At the core of being a Patriot is the belief that what one is doing is being done to better — strengthen — protect — and preserve — the values and beliefs that our nation was founded upon to ensure they endure for future generations of Americans.
I am proud to be an American and proud of all of America’s Patriots.