Sunday, January 23, 2022
HomeOpinionLetters To The EditorLetter to the Editor: Views on Citizenship by a frequent visitor to...

Letter to the Editor: Views on Citizenship by a frequent visitor to Haddam

The views stated here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of this newspaper. We welcome supporting or opposing views on any published item. Received November 18, 2021.

Dear Sister Peggy,

Recently, I read a story of days you’d remember. “80 years ago, world sets stage for
Westover” the headline said. As I read those words in the Springfield Republican
(Stephen Jendrysik, September 9, 2021) my mind recalled our Holyoke childhood days
where we watched the airplanes fly to and from Westover Field and, incidentally,
observed the American citizens who flew them. Today’s historians now call them “The
Greatest Generation”.

Since 1940-1945, you and I have grown up and old. So we know more now about
how ideas like citizenship can change.

None of our families have had the experience we shared on that pleasant tree-shaded street. I hope they won’t mind my little sermon about citizenship because, like us,
they’re part of how it has been changing in America: its politics; its behavior; about the
duties of being an American citizen.

To explain my idea of what this word “Citizen” means, here’s a dictionary’s definition (Encyclopedia Brittanica as cited in Wikipedia):
“A relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance. And is in turn entitled to its protection. It implies a status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities: a pledge of allegiance, a right to vote, hold political office, pay taxes, contribute military service when asked.”

Sort of a mouthful isn’t it? When I think about how ”citizenship” beliefs have
changed these past two years, I’m bothered. Incidents like Americans refusing a
vaccination or storming the Capitol in Washington trouble me. What does being a U. S.
citizen mean to the unvaccinated or those rioters? In times of National crises like a
pandemic, isn’t everyone expected to fulfill citizenship duties? Was not the protection of
fellow Americans what those who wrote and signed the Constitution expected?
Doesn’t our wellness or our elected representatives’ safety take priority over
freedom to do and choose whatever an individual likes? Does freedom to speak or write
allow creating plans to attack the nation’s government ?

Watching grown ups at age 9 or 10 on Holyoke’s Madison Avenue left me a believer in ideas like allegiance, service (civic, military community, family), protection of life. And I know from watching and listening as a brother over the years that it did the same for you. We both wanted to become responsible citizens like the neighbors.

Remember any of these folks in the neighborhood? Colonel & Ms. DeGraf lived in a
house at the corner of Madison Avenue and Northampton Street. It looks like a
gingerbread cake or an illustration from a kid’s fairy tale book even today. It had been
rented by Westover to be the base commander’s home. An invitation came for a cocktail
party from Ms. DeGraf, the commander’s wife sometime in around Christmas 1944.

With no baby sitters back in the day, Mom asks if she can bring you and me. Ms. DeGraf agrees so up the street we all walked to the gingerbread house. Mrs. DeGraf ushers you and Mom into the living room where wives have gathered while I follow Dad into the kitchen. The tiny space is packed with smoking and drinking men, everyone talking loudly. A very large man smoking a cigar is the center of attention. I stare wide eyed at the cigar smoking man as he silences all the other men. Bombing the Japanese seems to be the subject that delights his listeners.

Later, Dad explains he’s a newly promoted General transferred to the Pacific from England where he had been directing the American Air Corps bombing of Germany. Now he’s become the commander of a new Air Force tasked with bombing Japan. He means to
end the war by bombing Japan as a news reporters later wrote “…into the stone age.” It
may have been General Curtis LeMay.

Several weeks later, Col. DeGraf is also transferred to the Pacific. He invites Dad to watch him leave Westover. Dad brings me. We watch as DeGraf hoists himself upward into the cockpit of a bomber called a B-25 where he checks his instruments, opens the cockpit window and waves goodbye. Minutes later, he taxis the bomber to his runway and flies away, Dad takes me to school, and himself back to his office. I wonder now, did DeGraf invite us to see his departure thinking it would make us understand the significance of his military obligation to serve his country?

My boyhood recollections are with me still. The wartime acts of our parents and their peers seem to have shaped my own priorities, albeit in lesser ways than those of The Greatest Generation.

Would a vaccination shot or acceptance of an election have been as worthy a citizenship duty today as those of the Westover era or the attack on the World Trade Towers 9/11? To me they would. When faced with the kind of threat exemplified by the likes of Hitler, Hirohito or an Osama bin Laden, Americans seem to grasp the duty asked by the Constitution. Now, however, citizenship has become wishy washy. The sense of obligation, allegiance, duty to our fellow citizens has become forgotten. Lazily, we just turn on the TV to another football game or streaming video episode. Freedom of choice gets top billing, not the responsibility that accompanies that freedom. But one another’s safety has priority in our law and charter. We are not supposed to yell fire in a crowded theater.

We were the first country created as a democracy, having a government to serve not a king but “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Those people are us. When we preserve an idea like life, liberty & happiness we should recognize that life was the first of the Constitution’s priorities, second liberty, and third happiness. Liberty follows when each of us can live, shop, dine, and enjoy our families without fear of deadly disease. And election voting rules defined by law protect us from fraud.

Richard Towne
Frequent visitor of Haddam

Must Read