The school day started like all school days are supposed to start. The bell rang, and everyone stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Every year, fewer students stood, and most recited nothing. Lately, many of my students didn’t even bother standing. I had to ask them to stand to honor the men and women of our nation who lost their lives to give us what we have today.

Heavy flak fire lights up the night sky over Naples, Italy, on Dec. 3, 1943, during the Allied invasion of the Italian mainland. Associated Press, File

On this day, a young woman told me that I had no right to ask her to stand. She said that she was a pacifist, that references to nationalism should not be respected.

I didn’t become angry. After a few moments, I asked my class to listen to a story I was told when I was young, concerning a man and a war. The class seemed to realize that what I was about to tell them was important to me and could be important to them.

I started out by describing a young man who was a fine athlete. He was a varsity football and basketball captain at the University of Vermont. In high school, sportswriters had chosen him for the All-New England basketball team in 1940, and he had been picked for the All-Conference football team the year before. He had the world by its butt. And when World War II exploded on our nation, he decided to defend his country.

He became a radioman for the U.S. Navy. His first trip took him to Casablanca and Gibraltar. This was a young man who previously had not gotten out of New England.

The ship then went into the Mediterranean, unloading munitions at Gila and Scoglitti. Scoglitti was littered with German and Italian dead, mostly Italian. Booby traps and enemy snipers were everywhere.


Everyone in the room was now listening intently.

The ship filled with American soldiers headed toward a place called Salerno. Halfway there, news came over the ship’s radio that Italy had surrendered.

In the early morning, the ship traveled up the Gulf of Salerno. It streamed along the instep of the Italian boot and headed toward a gentle curve of the beach. Then it happened. Looking out at the ocean, our hero watched a plane overhead. He noticed a flaming dart leave the plane. It whistled down and hit the ship in front of his, splitting it in two.

Men shouted and waved in the water. Some floated silently. Many went down with the ship. Small rescue craft picked up as many as they could. In the white sands, the Germans were waiting. Word came back to the ship that the battle was going badly. Many on the ship were handed guns and told to go ashore in an attempt to turn the tide. The enemy was counterattacking and wedging their way toward the sea.

That night, the enemy started going after the cruisers. Our hero, on watch, saw a flaming plane, its pilot fighting for control, falling toward his ship. It came close enough to make him crouch on the deck, and it hit the water beneath him with a hissing roar. That same night, a British battleship, HMS Rodney, steamed into the harbor and pounded the German positions on shore. The British army also came in from the south to help the Americans.

Finally, word came out of the hills that the attack was holding its own. The last of the available reinforcements were sent in. The Luftwaffe threw the last of its fury at the ships in the gulf. These same ships were firing at anything that flew. American planes dropped paratroopers behind the German lines. The sound of the fighting started to dwindle.


The ship finally left Salerno with survivors of the battle that had just taken place.

Our hero will never forget this time. His most vivid memory will always be the faces of American soldiers smiling as they went into action and possible death. He called it courage in the face of hopelessness.

At the end of the story, the class was very quiet. The young woman asked how I knew so much about this man. I smiled and told her that he was my father.

The students no longer had to be asked to stand for the pledge. Who dares to forget the heroes who made all of our lives possible?

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