By Joshua Bruner
This is a hard question because there are a number of different answers, and being in America, we are all free to our own opinion of the answer. When I think about this question, I can’t help but think about pride, humility, sacrifice, veteran’s service and the American Spirit. When talking to many different people of all ages, I noticed popular buzz words such as “Freedom”, “Economy”, “Travel”, Technology”, ‘Government” and “Apple Pie”. This just proves, we all have different ideas of what makes this country so great.
When I think of America, I try to think deeper than that. I think of my Great Grandfather who fought at Iwo Jima. He went over as a young kid who just turned 18. He served for his country in the Marines, side by side with a brotherhood thicker than blood. While he was over seas serving his country, his sister and friends worked in factories, covering the jobs that the men left behind so they could serve. My mom said he seldom spoke of his war stories because he was on the front lines and did not find his stories appropriate for young children. My grandparents and mom always said when my GGpa was with his VFW buddies, you could see the joy on his face, even though he hardly ever smiled. You could feel the pride and the humbleness just by looking at the faces of these men who served their country. To me, that is what makes America great. Pride in service.
My other great grandfather was a doctor at the Bayonne Naval Ship Yard during WWII. He was also one of the town’s local doctors. It was known throughout the town that the Dr. Harry had a huge heart. He loved his patients and if a family was in need, he would take care of them for free. This was a time when doctors didn’t make the money they make now. He had a house full of kids and other family members to take care of, but he always put his patients needs before his. To me, that is what makes America great. Dedication to service.
My grandfather and great uncles left their loved ones to serve in the Korean War. This is also known as the forgotten war, but these men served and protected our Country. If you ask my Poppy if he thinks of himself as a hero, he shakes his head and says “No, I was just doing my job at the time”. But once again, a this was a different era and you can still see the pride on his face when he tells his war stories. Humble about service.
My great uncles served in Vietnam. This was a war that men and women left and a lot of the nation turned their backs as they were protesting for Peace, Love and Happiness. Many soldiers never returned, many came back broken. My aunt’s father- in- law came back suffering from Agent Orange. Of course at the time, he didn’t know. He raised a beautiful family of 5, and slowly they watched their hero fade away. But not once did his pride in his country fade. He passed 2 years ago and this summer his name will be etched into the Vietnam Memorial Wall In DC where he can stand once again side by side with his brothers. That is what makes America great. Acknowledging sacrifice.
Desert Storm is another war some seem to forget. My uncle and a bunch of my mom’s friends went to Iraq and served our country. Some of her friends came back broken and one didn’t make it back at all. Some people would blame the Government, but they didn’t, they did their duty, they did it well. They are proud to have served their country . Go to a Veteran’s Day event, many of you will look around and see old men and woman, that is what you think when you think of a Vet. Yes, you are correct, but look closer, look at the men and women our parents age, now watch their faces, the smiles of bravery, tears from the loss of friends, and tears of joy for friendships that won’t end. Those tears tell a story, ask them about it because they are what makes America great. Veterans.
9/11, I was days shy of turning 1 year old. My mom was holding me while grocery shopping when the store went silent and the cashier said to her, “Aren’t you from NYC?” My mom turned and said, “I was why?” The cashier said, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center, they are saying it is under attack”. At that moment, my mom said her world went dark. All phones to her family were busy and she couldn’t get through. She lost family, friends, old coworkers, and most of all her right to feel safe in the country she loved. After 9/11, Americans came together and were pissed. We had football players walk away from contracts to serve their country, college students dropped out to serve, young men and women graduating high school and lining up at recruiting offices, working class Americans signing up to serve. That is what makes America great. American Spirit.
Since 9/11, my family has been adopting deployed soldiers, becoming pen pals, sending over packages and going to VA hospitals to help when needed. Over the course of 15 years, we have adopted over 500 soldiers and we are still going. The letters and emails we get back are what makes America great.
As I walk down the hall of school with my Trump hat on because he is the candidate I truly believe will make America great again, I get yelled at my fellow students telling me I suck. Why do I suck? I do not tell you that your Bernie shirt is offensive to me, I don’t say your mom’s bumper sticker to vote for Hillary enrages my mom, and you need to take it down. We are FREE to like whatever candidate we want. I don’t see how me wearing a hat can offend you unless it says something directly about you. I feel that Americans have gotten soft. We have come so far and some days it feel like we are taking years worth of steps backwards. How do we fix it?
Ronald Reagan once said, “People look to Government to fix the problems, but Government is the problem.” Those words are so true. We the people have to stand up and make America great again. We have to relearn history, take back pride in our country, not let people come in illegally and stomp on our flag. You are welcome to come, enter the way our ancestors entered, do the class work, become a legal citizen and stand with us side by side, brother with brother as we say ,“ I pledge the allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, Under GOD, individual with liberty and justice for all”
Because that is what makes America great. Allegiance to country.
Next time you stop in McDonald’s, go sit with the old guys in the corner for 15 minutes, you will know who they are because they wear hats with their branch of service, the flag on their windbreaker, and the scars on their face. Sit down, ask them questions, watch their eyes, you will see pride and love for our great nation.
So yes we have the baseball, football and ice hockey. We have the freedom to go out at 3:00 am to get a hot dog from WAWA. We can be Jewish, Christian, Muslim or atheist. We have fireworks, hot dogs, lemonade, a melting pot of restaurants that serve food from every country out there. Dancing with the Stars, The Hunger Games, Everyone’s got Talent, I can go on and on. But why do we have all of these things? Because of the brave men and women who stand up for our rights and protect us. That is what makes America great to me.
In the modern age of social media, you can’t help but get caught up in “look at me, look at my super star kid.” We also have a stage for political views, first hand account of events such as mass murders, riots and Hollywood Stars overrated opinions on how we should live our lives as they sit there with bodyguards and large bank accounts. This is what is what makes America great and also what is destroying America. The quick to judge, quick to get angry’ and quick to self reward yourself for paying it forward. You see soccer moms in fancy SUVs posting selfies at Starbucks, “I just paid it forward by paying for the car’s behind me order! #pay it forward,#iamagiver,#peopleinneed.” Ok that’s great you did a kind gesture, but the Mercedes behind you didn’t need your help, it is Starbucks, the cheapest thing is $5.50.
Then we have our humble and kind people. This is the person who drops off food at the food pantry weekly, the person who is at Walmart and picks up a few extra pair of socks or a $20.00 gift card, and send it to the school nurse with a note “please give to a family who can use it.”
This person buys a .99 cent cup of coffee for a man laying on the corner, not because he doesn’t deserve the Starbucks coffee but because he needs the 4.00 more.
This coffee might be the act of kindness he or she needs to turn their life around, have faith again, and maybe have the courage to find the help they need. That is what makes America great again. Generosity.
As I look ahead and plan my future after high school, I know my life path is to enlist in the United State Marine Corp. My plan is to defend my country while I educate myself. I stand with a brotherhood now in the United State Navy Sea Cadets, the majority of these young men and women have the same aspiration as me, to serve our country. We are together training under two great men who served already. They spend countless hours on paperwork, training sessions, and taking time away from their families, so they can help us grow and learn what we need to know about all branches of service. Because we are the future of your armed forces and we are what Makes America great! Tradition of service.
I hope one day my grandchildren are asked this question and their first thought is, “How my grandpa served his country.”