THE GRADUATION PARTY

                                           Or, Who's Minding the Store  

Last July I attended the graduation party for one of my nephews, Matthew Kramer. Matt graduated from a good Catholic high school near his home town of Mentor, Ohio on the banks of Lake Erie. The actual graduation had been earlier, but the party was delayed until later in the summer. It was a big get together that involved family and friends, tents in the yard, lots of good food, games and bonfires.

I've wanted to write about this experience for quite some time but couldn't figure out the right angle until now, December, 2007. It had been a long time since my family and I had visited Mentor and we wanted to reconnect with my wife Marcia's younger sister Mary and her family. They had visited us in Virginia on a number of occasions, but we just couldn't seem to make it to Ohio because we spent a lot of our leave time visiting aging relatives in my home state of Kansas. The Kramers are a good, upstanding family. Matt's older sister Danielle is an All-American synchronized swimmer who led her school, the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, to two third place finishes in the NCAA finals against powerhouses such as Stanford and Ohio State. She now is a member of the United States team and is training for the Olympics.

Matthew is a very smart and talented kid. He was somewhat of a pain in the butt when he was younger seeming to be somewhat hyperactive and too smart for his own good. As he got into high school he matured, and has become a real nice, thoughtful and sensitive young man. We have a physically disabled daughter, Erin, who is older than Matt, but he has always been very attentive and kind to her, and has even written poetry about her. He can't know how much her mother and I appreciate his gestures.

Back to the graduation party. I helped Matt's dad Paul set up the tents and get ready for the big shindig early on Saturday morning. The party started early to mid-afternoon with the arrival of neighborhood families and high school friends of Matt's. More of my wife's brothers and sisters started showing up from Buffalo and Rochester, New York, and things got well underway with lots of good food and drink, videos of Matt and his friends showing over and over in the garage on a big laptop computer, and numerous games, and good cheer all around.

As evening approached Paul and I set up a fire pit in the back yard and got it burning. Although it was July, it was a pleasant day with breezes coming off Lake Erie, so the heat of a bonfire wouldn't cause discomfort. Sitting around the fire at the start it was just my wife, Erin, and I and a few other of Marcia's brothers and sisters. As the evening wore on Matt and a handful of his friends gathered about the fire. This group of boys and girls consisted of incredibly energetic, intelligent and thoughtful kids who have bright futures ahead of them. Matt is going to the University of Miami in Florida on scholarship, and his friends are mostly doing the same at other colleges both in Ohio and around the country. As I listened to them talk about their high school years and the summers between, what they planned to do as college freshmen, and with their lives during and after graduation, I was struck with an odd thought...OK, I hope you all realize your aspirations, but "Who's minding the store?"

I need to explain why that thought crept into my head as I listened to these kids talk. Ever since the deadly attacks on our country on 11 September 2001 I have thought that the United States is in mortal danger. We are at war. The Islamofascists who attacked us on that day, and had been nipping at our heels since the fall of our Iranian embassy in 1979 are a formidable enemy who want nothing less than our annihilation as a country, and the demise of western civilization as we know it. Without great vigilance and an offensive approach to defeating these monsters, we expose ourselves to eventual defeat. Our enemies seek nuclear weapons, and I don't doubt for a minute that they would use them against us. Try to imagine what it would be like for New York City, Washington, or Los Angeles to disappear under a nuclear mushroom cloud. We must carry the fight to these people, and I don't think that our citizenry fully understands that yet.

The "Who's minding the store?" thought occurred because my initial impression of what these kids were talking about seemed to completely ignore the fact that our country is at war. What they had done in the past and planned to do in the future seemed to express a complete disregard of this fact and an uncomprehending notion that anything would be different as a result. It wasn't really so much a self-centeredness on their part, as an aura of cluelessness. I was thinking, "There are Marines and soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East and all around the world to protect these precious freedoms you have, and you don't even seem to care." And then it struck me as I continued to listen to them that they weren't really the ones who would mind the store. The one's who are doing that are precisely those Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen who are face to face with tyranny every day.

 As these kids looked at old Uncle Dirck sitting across from them on the other side of the fire, white haired, bald, seemingly benign, and getting more and more wrinkles with each passing day, how were they to know that he was once one of those watchdogs who kept the Communist wolf away from the door. Don't think that I'm saying I'm a better man because I am a Marine. I never did anything exceptional as a Marine. I am a combat veteran of the Vietnam war where I commanded a company of riflemen, but we never got to any real big fights like Dai Do or Operation Union during my tour of command. We had quite a number of smaller skirmishes, and a tour at that North Vietnamese artillery and mortar bulls-eye Con Thien, and I was involved in the recapture of Hue during Tet 1968, but then as an assistant operations officer rather than a company commander.

What's the point of all this? It's about different mind sets. People who choose the life of a Marine or soldier think about these thing differently than the average college kid in America today. The spirit that embraced and animated this country to victory during World War II is gone, and I fear it will take a nuclear attack within the United States to ever get it back, if in fact we can. We remain vigilant and fight precisely so that these great, bright, enthusiastic kids who are now college freshmen around our great country can live their dreams. This is the warrior mindset, not theirs. They don't know, nor can they be expected to know, what it's like to have the Eagle, Globe and Anchor branded into you heart. They can't comprehend how this is a life-changing experience that allows old Uncle Dirck to sit across the fire from them and still feel the fires of Semper Fidelis in his heart every day, day in and day out, almost a quarter century after taking off the uniform for the last time.

Until the time comes that the citizenry of the United States comes to the full realization that we are in a war for western civilization, then the freedoms that these great youngsters of ours, with so much hope for the future, will have to be protected by that minority of warriors that make up our military services and our intelligence services.

Let me end this with an applicable quote from George Orwell.."We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." We are those rough men.

Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends