America Essay Contest: Through an Elder and an Infant, I Found My True Love for America

November 5, 2020 Updated: November 10, 2020


As with any relationship, love for country grows with time and experience. Looking back over my life, I can say that I always felt an affinity for my homeland, but I grew to sincerely love America once I had stepped outside her borders.

In this romance, the adage “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” holds true. I had to leave her to know just how lucky I am.

My love story begins on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. I remember the emcee noting the special occurrence of the number 11 during our swearing-in ceremony. The number would seem to follow me throughout my military career and show itself at times when I did the most growing. In the 11th month, I held up my right hand and swore an allegiance with my life to defend our beloved land and Constitution. It is one of my proudest moments, to follow in the footsteps of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend the American way of life.

A few short months later, on Jan. 11, 2011, I stepped off for basic training and let the U.S. Army show me what it meant to genuinely love America. Honestly, from this date on, I could fill novels with trials and tribulations, fallen heroes, and combat exploits. There are many occasions worth writing about that developed my love and passion for America. However, the defining moment comes from my deployment to Afghanistan.

At the time, I was tasked with speaking to all the women we encountered in local villages. That morning started off like any other—a poorly guided rocket launched into our camp, followed by sirens and dust, and then quiet. After the damage was assessed and the all-clear was given, I continued to dress in my protective equipment and departed to a nearby village. It should have come as no surprise that this would be a special day; it was my 11th mission.

We loaded into armored vehicles and drove to the outskirts of town, much farther than we had been in the previous 10 trips outside the confines of our small outpost. Once we arrived at our destination, my male counterpart spoke to a growing crowd of youthful-looking men and village elders, requesting permission to be there. Once granted access to their land, I sought out any females who might speak to me.

I discovered a group of women sitting around a stone hearth, baking bread. They took me by my arms and welcomed me to sit. They touched my face, tapped on my helmet, and pointed to my hair sticking out. I was an oddity. They told my interpreter that they had never seen an American woman and wondered why I was dressed as a man.

In the middle of our conversation, an elderly woman walked out of a nearby mud-brick home, and the group of women parted to make space for her. She carried with her the weight of generations of suffering and adversity. She wore her hardships in a stately manner, and when I looked into her eyes, I knew something important was about to happen.

She approached me and handed me a small package in a white cloth. It was a dying infant. I looked down and his lips were blue in color, he was breathing shallowly, and he was covered in flies who were waiting to feast on his decaying body. She said I would take him home with me; it was not a request. She was willing to send this child with a stranger, knowing with unwavering certainty that he had a better chance at life in America.

I wish I could say this story ended with a saved life and a happily-ever-after. Our medics did what they could to ease his pain and cure his ailments. I have spent many years being tormented by this moment. I was bound by the confines of treaties, policies, and politics. I couldn’t have easily brought this babe home, though I desperately wanted to.

As I stood there on foreign soil, in one of the most dismal moments of my life, my true love for America was born.

I am always saddened to see people in our society who would kneel for our anthem or step on our flag, because I think of this Afghan woman. I think of her courage and strength. I think of my good fortune—that I am not offering my dying child to a stranger, hoping his life would be better in a foreign land.

I fell in love with America, seeing it through the eyes of this elderly woman. I discovered so much about America once I left its borders, and upon my return, I have never wanted to leave it since.

Courtney Cantrella, 35, currently serves as a MEDEVAC pilot in the U.S. Army Reserves and resides in Southern California.

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.