What the 4th of July means to me.

Builders,

July 4th 2004, found Grace and I living in a tiny cottage directly adjacent to the New Smyrna Beach FL airport.  On that day I walked outside with her and asked her to marry me. I chose this day because I hold it sacred.

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Many people are conflicted over their identity or ideals; I am not. My great grandparents, decided they were not Irish nor German, they, and all of us that would come from them, would now be Americans. I have friends from many other lands and cultures, and I respectfully appreciate them, but I personally feel no identity other than being an American.

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After Grace said yes, we had a small cookout that brought in a few neighbors. Our next door neighbor was a 90 year old man named Albie. He was difficult to understand because he had a very strong German accent combined with the effects of a stroke that stole the much of his fluid speech. In the middle of the gathering he made it clear that he wanted to share something very important.

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With great difficulty, he explained growing up in Berlin, and having cousins in Chicago he visited as a child; he wanted to be a chef, but was conscripted. On December 7th 1941, he asked to be sent to the Eastern Front, as he could never imagine fighting against the land where his cousins lived. In 1958, he came to America, and his ship entered New York harbor, passing the Statue of Liberty. It was the 4th of July.

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In our small cottage, in front of his neighbors, Albie raised a beer as a toast, and declared that this was one of the best days of his life, for living to 90 meant he had now been an American longer than he had ever been anything else, and it was his wish that all his neighbors understand his great pride in this, and that he chose to be an American, because of what our country meant in the world. Albile passed from this Earth the following year, but his slurred and struggled words remain a very eloquent tribute to the America which lives in my heart.

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Above, Grace and myself, the year we were married.

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A year later, on July 4th 2005, Grace and I were married on the beach, a few miles from Albie’s house. I had many thoughts that day, but with them was my great fortune of being born here, and the awareness that many immigrants, My great grandparents and Albie among them, have had a far stronger appreciation for this nation than others who simply found themselves born here. On this day, our 10th anniversary,  The date draws my thankfulness for having Grace, my parents, and being an American.

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Several years ago, I was present when a man was being publicly ridiculed for stating that “America should close its shores and allow no immigration of any kind.”  I came to his ‘defense’ by pointing out that in 1491, most ‘Americans’ were indifferent about immigrants, but in a few short decades the same Americans were largely unanimous in being against any further immigrants, based on issues with the new arrivals stealing things and lacking any kind of respect for long established social and religious customs and commonly spoken languages.

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Put aside any thoughts you may have on the late Mario Cuomo, and take one minute of your day on this July 4th to watch 60 seconds of his comments on the dreams of his mother, an immigrant from Italy:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aWqdLFbo5o

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Happy 4th of July, -ww.

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