“The resource of life lies within the soul eager to find its way, willingly in tune yet tethered by silence and apathy unresolved. At times it is fought for, tirelessly pursued and then squandered; still a gift to be tendered, a reward for valor but not a given.”
As I recall it date was July 3rd, 1967; a lazy summers day for an eight year old boy born and raised in small town southwestern Pennsylvania. Named for a Revolutionary War General the “burg” bears the name Greensburg, the General: Nathanael Greene. Folks were busy preparing for the annual 4th of July festivities placing flags on the poles lining Main Street and excitement filled the air. Greensburg is American History and as a youngster I was surrounded by it; Bushy-Run Battle Field, Ft. Ligonier, Gettysburg and so on.
I was standing on the corner of Main Street and W. Otterman watching the city workers hanging the flags from the streetlamps. Sharing the corner was Ernie-the-Cop but to his face he was simply Officer Ernie, Greensburg’s the-guy-seems-to-be-everywhere man-in-blue. Yes indeed this was his corner complete with “this here’s my call-box lad and over there’s yer father’s office, mind ya, Officer Ernie’s always watch’n” and the one from which he surveyed his town all the while rhythmically swinging his baton; always two rotations ending with a “phwap” as it came to rest in his palm. He’d do this again and again with a surgical precision that would last all day long even when standing in the middle of the intersection directing traffic. As a young boy the man was a marvel and from the seat of my Schwinn I would sit and watch him and occasionally he would “Boy, let me tell ‘ya a story about the war….”; my pals and I would sit and listen to his animation of history expressed wtih a flair uniquely his own. Oh yes this man was living history and as a young boy much of the tone and texture, I was to discover, of the American Story I learned from Officer Ernie and others just like him.
The City workers made their way along Main St. and it wasn’t long before they arrived at Officer Ernie’s corner. The truck pulled alongside the pole and the ladder rotated and extended upward toward a bracket from which they would hang the flag. Fate would intervene and as the worker climbed the ladder he lost his grip and in a panic let go of the flag; he was secure however the flag began its thirty foot plunge to the ground but this wasn’t just any corner and most certainly NOT just any flag. I confess never before or since have a seen a man of his size willingly move with such rapier-like speed; in what seemed like an instant Officer Ernie dove to the ground in such a way as to put his body between the ground and flag and in the process he received a gash to the right side of his forehead. Wounded in action; again.
With relative ease he was back up on his feet flag in one hand the other pressing on his forehead. He looked up at the City worker and with a booming voice that seemed to freeze all movement he said: “…now let that be a lesson to ya, this here flag never touches the ground for no one! Next time, and I don’t care if you break every bone in yer body, you best hit the ground first so that it can land on ya! This is not just a piece of cloth, it’s a memory of a promise and don’t you ever forget it!
“…this is not just a piece of cloth, it’s a memory of a promise and don’t you ever forget it!”
He quickly turned and looked straight at me and said “…and you, you little I’talian bugger, don’t you forget it either!” It would be nearly twenty years before I truly understood the meaning of Officer Ernie’s words.
There are countless pieces of the American story Greensburg’s history records the many of which I suspect will continue to fade with time yet there are two individuals whose stories I would like to revive:
As a child growing up in Greensburg many a summer day was spent riding my bicycle to and from Lynch Field, a municipal pool. One of the routes my friends and I would travel would take us through St. Clair Park a former cemetery named for Arthur St. Clair. Born in Scotland in 1737, St. Clair came to America in 1757 as a British Lieutenant in service of the Crown participating in the campaigned history recalls as the French and Indian War. In 1764 he resigned his commission and settled in the Ligonier Valley where he prospered in the milling business and for a time was the largest landowner in Western Pennsylvania.
By 1776 he had adopted the American motive as his own and when the time came he accepted a Colonels Commission in the Continental Army. He was alongside General Washington as the army crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve 1776 and is often given credit for the strategic success at Princeton, NJ for which he received the rank of Major General. He lent a great portion of his personal fortune toward funding the revolutionary cause and although as President of the Continental Congress he was instrumental in the cause of perfecting the Philadelphia Convention and the U.S. Constitution, Congress refused to reimburse him for his contributions towards the war effort and he passed on August 31, 1818 in abject poverty.
Appearing above the signatures’ affixed to the Declaration of Independence:
“With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Now then, southwestern Pennsylvania holds a rather dubious distinction of being among the top five geographical areas having sustained the highest combat losses during the War in Vietnam. It was not an uncommon occurrence to have had a friend whose older brother went off to the jungles never to make it home alive, if at all.
Recalling one such instance circa 1968-69 I am reminded of one Individual in particular; to everyone I knew he was simply known as “Perky.” He was likely in his late teens or early twenties a towering hulk of a guy (remember, I was only 9-10 years old) who worked at the Texico service-station and he drove a purple ’57 Chevy with a black soft-top. In the southwestern “P.A.” lingo-of-the-day we all thought he was “tough” and even better, he was a “chiner” (pronounced: “sheen er”) which was the label given a guy who was both “tough” and knew his way around a car. I know nothing of his family, didn’t even know where he lived but when that beautiful purple ’57 Chevy drove by everyone knew who it was and if you were among the lucky, Perky would take his left index finger and tap his forehead in acknowledgment as he passed on by. I recall the occasion where he helped me inflate the tire of my bicycle; his hands were huge and covered in grease so much so that the rim and valve stem of my front wheel was smudged with a black gooo. Without a word he took the rag from his back pocket and with deliberate movement wiped the wheel clean then looked up at me with a smile and said, “There you go, good as new. Hey, tell your brother I said hi!” Wow, tough, my brother knows Perky and Perky knows my brother; neato!
Well the day would eventually come when Perky would be summoned by the Draft Board and he would make the journey like many others who did the same. I remember the day he drove his car to a storage-garage located around the corner from my parents’ home. I watched him gently pull the car into the garage and with one pump of the throttle, the engine was silenced. He stood there for a moment looking at the tail of his car then unceremoniously pulled the bi-fold doors shut placing a lock on the hasp. He turned and began walking toward a waiting truck, owned by the fellow who ran the Texico, and as they drove off he said, “Headed off to ‘Nam’ kid, see ya when I get back, make sure no one messes with my car.” That was the last time I ever saw him. He never came back for the car and it sat there in the garage and it was still there when my family moved to California in 1975.
The inscription appearing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
“Here lies in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
Yes he is and I’m sure He does!
The founding of this Country and its form of government was by no means a coincidence and our lives are most certainly not incidental to its cause; they are, in fact, its very essence. To grasp the significance of this statement is to also understand that our government was not designed to give Purpose to the American People, it was the Purpose of the Founding Americans that a Government be specifically designed to be both deferential to their Purpose and to render all efforts and mechanisms necessary to protect and preserve it.
I find it a twisted form of irony that commentators refer to this Country’s sovereign duty of perfecting the implicit mandate of the Declaration of Independence as the American Experiment; I find the intimations of this statement unworthy of the efforts and lives expressed in the process of bringing it to life! The soft undercurrent of the statement suggest something along the dissonant tune of: Just wait a while, you’ll see doomed to failure they are, it’s inevitable, rabble the lot of them! Self-Government, we’ll see about that!
Will we see about that? It’s so very difficult to say as there is far too much unwillingness adrift about and within the minds of American’s. Many might be given cause to empathize when given consideration to the abuse of power and seemingly endless supply of coercive bias continuing to wage war upon the conscience of Americans. Who can blame them after all even the willing are fractured as to a common strategy for affecting the processes required to both suspend the many abuses as well as the remdeial acitons required to repair their devistating effects. It’s inevitable!
The 4th of July is not a celebration of Independence, it is an affirmation of your being given a gift that licenses you to affirm your Providential, implicit and unalienable rights to independent thought, independent action and independent form and millions gave their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor with the fervent hope that you will and you will pass it on!
“…this is not just a piece of cloth, it’s a memory of a promise and don’t you ever forget it!”
Officer Ernie, Greensburg, Pa. – circa 1967
Freedom and its expresser Liberty is truly a gift however, it is Not a Given. If you want to keep your Freedom and the Liberty required to express it you will have to earn it one fight at a time! That’s just the way it is.
Curtis C. Greco, Founder