America Essay Contest: JFK, MLK, and the US Military Taught Me Well

November 11, 2020 Updated: November 11, 2020

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Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties,
Above the fruited plain,

In mid-September 2000, I was hiking the Colorado Trail, camping on Sargents Mesa. The words of the song resonated in my mind when the mountain to my east turned purple as the sun set. My God, what a beautiful country!

I’m 80 years old, looking back along my life’s trail and being so thankful I grew up and live in this wonderful land of ours. A land, not only of beauty, but of opportunity to live a free life. I’m certainly qualified to compare Americans’ lives with those of many other citizens of the world. And I realize how lucky I am.

The reality of life is that you mature from the ups and downs along life’s path, and you learn from listening to experienced people—your parents, your teachers, and wise men of the world. A year before I graduated from college, John F. Kennedy stated in his Presidential inaugural speech, “…ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Growing up in a small town, I had always wanted to travel and see the world. JFK’s words repeated in my head as I walked into the Air Force recruiter’s office and volunteered to see the world and serve my country.

Twenty-eight years later I had served eight years outside of American shores and from Maine to California and points in between as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. I had lived in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Spain, Germany, and six U.S. States. Here is what I have learned from this life experience.

First of all, no other country can compare with the freedom Americans enjoy. In Saigon, South Vietnam, I saw religious and peaceful demonstrators brutally beaten by police. Assigned to Saudi Arabia, I had to first verify I was not Jewish, and once I was stopped for document checks three times while traveling across the country in a U.S. military vehicle, and in uniform. In Spain, separatists bombed a popular restaurant my wife and I had often visited. These events impressed upon me that I had always taken my freedoms as an American for granted, while other citizens of the world cannot.

I believe Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream…” speech and my experiences in the military were important for my love of America. King quoted our Declaration of Independence, saying,  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I grew up during the 1940s and 1950s in a segregated environment where “coloreds” were considered as less than “whites.”

During my first assignment, and with increasing frequency over the next three decades, I worked side-by-side with American military personnel of all races. King was right. We should judge people by their capabilities, not by their color. I thank the U.S. military for teaching me that fact. And the knowledge made me love America even more.

I have many reasons to love this country. I love our land for its natural beauty. I value the equal opportunity for all citizens, no matter their color, creed, or religion. America is truly the land of the free. Finally, I love this country because it gave me an opportunity to serve and protect the USA.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years, 
Thine alabaster cities gleam 
Undimmed by human tears! 
America! America! 
God shed His grace on thee, 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea

—Katherine Lee Bates, “America The Beautiful”

After 28 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, including a tour in Vietnam and seven more years overseas, Colonel Charles Rush retired in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with Cindy, his wife of 52 years.

This essay was entered in the Epoch Times “Why I Love America” contest.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.