Desperately Seeking Real Patriots?


Rachael’s dog is named ‘Freedom Rings.’ Her phone cover blings with the Stars and Stripes. She volunteers with Wounded Warriors. Her Facebook shares are always about firefighters and Korean War vets and the kind of heroes who wear medals not jerseys.

Rachael is such a patriot that if you saw a teeny tiny red, white and blue bikini in the in Target you would want to buy it for her baby — who will probably recite the Pledge of Allegiance before she can identify even a single Disney princess.

I must disappoint Rachael terribly. Because I am not much of a patriot, really. When Blue Star Families asked about how my patriotism had changed since my husband started deploying (part of the deployment project in connection with their E-book Everyone Serves,) I found myself wishing they were asking Rachael, not me.

Rachael would know the right answer. She would have a substantial voting record. She would be the poster child for one of those “how to be a patriot” articles that tell you to join the military and memorize the Bill of Rights and know our history and thank a veteran and fly the flag correctly.

Rachael’s natural and genuine love of country makes me feel like I am missing something. I’m like the housewife in Desperately Seeking Susan who buys Susan’s jacket because she wants that something that Susan has.

I ought to have that kind of patriotism. As the wife and mother and daughter and sister of military members, my eyes ought to glow with un-shed tears of patriotism every time I see a flag.

When did I lose that? I was the third grader who had to pick the red, white and blue Spider bike with streamers for the Bicentennial. I knew the Preamble of the Constitution by heart. I could sing every verse of America the Beautiful.

And then I went to college. A zealous American history professor spent my freshman year teaching us that patriotism was the same thing as nationalism and everything the United States does is born of selfishness and greed. I was so jaded I got an A in that class.

And then I married a Navy guy. I learned to cry every time a ship glided into port bearing the American flag.

I learned to sob when the schoolchildren at our base in Japan sang “Proud To Be An American” at school assemblies.

When 9/11 happened and the rest of the country became patriotic, I went red, white and blue right along with them.

And now? Now I just don’t know. Sometimes I feel like my patriotism has become tainted over a decade of war fought by so very few. I fear that, like Christmas has become too commercialized, patriotism has been too processed and packaged until it doesn’t mean anything anymore.

But it means something to Rachael. Patriotism is this ideal that she builds her life around. She has that firm belief that we Americans are lucky. We Americans must give back. We Americans owe something to the world.  She thinks that when people have died so that you can be free that ought to mean something.

Her eyes glow when she talks like this. So I stand really close to her and hope some of that rubs off on me.

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I'm blogging about Everyone Serves

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at
  • Sonja

    Once again Jacey you have written words that resonate with me. Sometimes I feel so jaded by what I’ve seen, heard or experienced and then I come across people like Rachel that makes me believe again. Thank you so much.

  • Heather

    Thank you Jacey! Thank you for showing me I’m not the only one. I was raised a navy Brat and married Air Force and I love my Country and appreciate all our military does for us and our Country, but I just lack that Super out in the open patriotism.

  • mongolberry

    Patriotism is only a kind of tribal zeal, it’s ok to feel it or not to feel it. For me, I’m not attached to any particular country, I like the States but I wouldn’t mind living in England or France or Japan. Most modern countries have pretty much the same quality of living. It does bother me a bit that some people seem to think that the US has some sort of monopoly on freedom and it really bothers me that some people react to differences of opinion or criticism with “If you don’t like it then leave.” which is the complete opposite of the ambiguous and poorly defined freedom they claim to love so much. I think you are not exercising your rights or doing your duty as a citizen if you never criticize or try to improve your country.

  • Love this! I really think what’s in your heart and the values you pass on are more important than the bling on your phone. If you’re a flag waver, that’s great too. But it’s not the most important thing.

  • GBS

    True patriotism is not a display. It is not how hard you wave the flag or how many tears you shed. It is a belief in a way of life which may or may not be nationalistic. Frequently, the belief is anti-nationalistic. Patriotism is the choice to go in harm’s way when necessary or required to support and assert your belief. It may be the member of the armed forces serving in a remote area of conflict. It may be the firefighter who enters a burning building. It may be the whistle-blower who reveals secrets. The believe may be noble or not. The nobility of the belief we usually don’t get to decide individually but history will.

    • sabrinacking

      I agree with your sentiment totally. Our experience of real patriotism and resiliency during these two never ending wars is best summarized by the Mother Teresa quote:
      “We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”

  • Steve

    Some of what you describe is exactly what turns some people off patriotism as it is often practiced in America. The cheap symbolism of flag waving, songs, loyalty pledges and other civic rituals. Some of it forced because if you don’t participate you get dirty looks or get ostracized (like when not saying the Pledge of Allegiance). Or her belief that America is in somehow unique when it’s not.

    That doesn’t mean patriotism in of itself is wrong. It’s about how it is expressed.