When I think of America, my heart and mind go back to the day my husband, Michael, was deployed. We knew it was coming — we had planned for it for months. We had prepared the children, discussed our finances, talked about the emergencies that could happen and all of the what-ifs.
The morning of his departure, all the officers and enlisted personnel were surrounded by their families. Politicians were glad-handing. Patriotic music was playing. The adjutant general spoke about the courage and duty of those who would be going to Afghanistan. A feeling of pride came over the room that cut through our worry and sadness. Those we loved the most were going overseas to preserve what makes us free, because it won’t preserve itself.
When the speech was over, the air in the room went to the impending goodbye. The kids saw the bus drive up. Their eyes became teary. Michael’s and my parents began to say goodbye. Everyone got emotional. And in one final outburst my daughter said, “Daddy, please don’t go.”
But she was the reason he was going. She and her brother. As Michael left to get on the bus, there was no hesitation. There was only a call of duty — one that many before Michael had heard and heeded so we could all be free. Now it was his turn to sacrifice and pay it forward. As the families of the deployed, we knew we were also part of that sacrifice. We had to follow the call, too. Because that’s what it means to be an American. It’s not race or religion or who your parents are. It’s when you live in a country that is the most amazing experiment to ever happen. It’s when you know that only by loving it and understanding it — and by the grace of God — will it survive. Every American has to pay it forward in his or her own way. Every person has to sacrifice. Because all Americans know we are the land of the free because we are also the home of the brave.
This article appears as “The Call of Duty” in the September 9, 2019, print edition of National Review.