A Lifelong Love Affair With America
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole.
I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this veil of human tears
Looms but the terror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll.
I am the Master of my fate.
I am the Captain of my soul. -William Ernest Henley
Aside from a short formula scratched into a brick-and-plaster prison wall by another American POW there before me (GOD=STRENGTH), and after the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want …), I drew the most inspiration and staying power from Henley’s poem Invictus, the latin word for “invincible” or “unconquerable.” For that reason, my business card as a professional speaker carries the phrase “Reaffirming the Invincibility of the Human Spirit.” That’s what I do.
I think my lifelong love affair with America commenced when I became a Boy Scout at age 12 (“On my Honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and to my Country …”). Then, when I applied for and received my first Social Security card at age 16 and the last four digits of my SS number came up as “1776,” I realized fate was at work on me at an early age. America’s victory over Japan and Germany in World War II was a tremendous source of pride. Unfortunately, current generations don’t even know the feeling of such victory in war.
Throughout my boyhood and youth I enjoyed the benefits, opportunities and freedoms so typically American. As I look back on that time of my life and compare it to present day, I realize all the more how blessed I was to be born and raised in the United States of America. At that time, California schools were second to none in the nation. I benefited from the professionalism and dedication of dozens of the world’s finest teachers and coaches.
During my years in communist prisons, my enemies’ singular goal was to force me to surrender my will to them and to denounce my country and its mission there in Southeast Asia. My secondary education in history and civics served me extremely well as I wrestled with the negative propaganda force-fed through prison loudspeakers. I shudder to think how ill-prepared too many of today’s youths would be.
Those seven years at the complete (non)mercy of a socialist system also taught me what it’s like to lose your freedom; not just we POWs, but also for the regimented life of the North Vietnamese Communists. Some of Mitt Romney’s most staunch supporters were refugees from Russia and European socialist countries.
You readers who have followed my column regularly know I have spent barrels of ink these last four years calling attention to the dangers of Obama’s policies.
But alas, he won the election anyway. And I found myself in total disagreement with half of my countrymen, deeply disappointed and disillusioned. How could this be? I asked myself. Aren’t we all Americans who want what’s best for our country?
And then I realized this country I love has changed significantly from generation to generation. The American people are America, but the founding principles upon which our country was founded are still America too: the love of freedom, self-reliance, independence, compassion for the less fortunate, peace through strength, free enterprise and spiritual values.
What a privilege it’s going to be as a part of the “loyal opposition” that’s going to help get America back on track to solve the problems of unprecedented debt left to our offspring, to fix an absolutely shattered foreign policy that has evolved from “leading from behind,” to ultimately exploit our native energy resources leading to total independence from foreign sources, and to fix an ill-conceived tax system that has half of all Americans supporting the other half.
America is still far bigger than four years of any single president, and I have faith that with the patience, determination and wisdom of all Americans, we can still come back together and work toward a country still worthy of everyone’s love.
Never forget: Together, we are the masters of our fate, we are the captains of our souls.