Love of Country
By: Nancy Salvato
Twice in the last couple of months I’ve had the privilege of listening to two WWII veterans speak of their experiences in the war. The first, Michael Kuryla, Jr. spoke about his struggle to survive after the U.S.S. Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk on the ship’s return from delivering a secret cargo, intended to save lives and shorten the war. He and the other men abandoning ship spent five days in the water before their eventual rescue. Their experience was immortalized in the movie “Jaws” when captain Quint recalled,
Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We’d just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was that our bomb mission was so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’ by, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. It was sorta like you see in the calendars, you know the infantry squares in the old calendars like the Battle of Waterloo and the idea was the shark come to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and sometimes that shark he go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark looks right at ya. Right into your eyes. And
the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all your poundin’ and your hollerin’ those sharks come in and… they rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks there were, maybe a thousand. I do know how many men, they averaged six an hour. Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water, he was like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist. At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he spotted us, a young pilot, lot younger than Mr. Hooper here, anyway he spotted us and a few hours later a big ol’ fat PBY come down and started to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.1
At the end of his presentation, Mr. Kuryla’s wife, perhaps best known as “Grambo” during her enlistment in the armed forces, reminded the 8th grade students at Darien, Illinois’ Cass Junior High School, freedom is not free and that they should consider thanking a soldier for surving our country.
The second veteran, Abner S. Ganet, discussed his role in the D-Day landing at Normandy Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, and liberating the prisoners at Buchenwald. It was only eleven years ago, he discovered one of the survivors was Eli Wiesel, perhaps best known for the book, “Night”. Mr. Wiesel expressed his gratitude for Mr.Ganet’s bravery all those years ago and explained that if their arrival had taken place just one day later, he would have been just another victim, gassed and cremated. Although many veterans of WWII do not like to talk about their experiences, Mr. Wiesel convinced Mr.Ganet the importance of telling the world of the atrocities that took place under Hitler’s reign of terror. As painful as it has been, Mr. Ganet began and continues to speak about his tour of duty.
During Mr. Kuryla’s presentation, the depiction of the U.S.S. Indianapolis sinking, shark infested waters, and the eventual rescue of the survivors was quite striking. More inspiring, was to learn of the courage each sailor displayed in the face of such adversity. Mr. Ganet’s account of “taking care of business” when nature called in the midst of a snowing battlefield, carrying additional machine gun artillery, which weighed more than him, after his compatriots were killed, digging trenches, liberating starving prisoners, and experiencing dry heaves over corpses stacked like cordwood and depictions of nature painted on human skin, were graphic and compelling. However, what finally brought tears to my eyes was the effect each presenter had on the students and watching an individual student hug Mr. Ganet and thank him for sharing with her. They were both visibly moved during the exchange.
Social Studies teachers, like Mr. Bleuher*, whose lessons exemplify “best practice”; utilizing primary sources while instilling gratitude for those who fight for freedom in the name of our country, are a rarity. Recently, Opinion Journal contributor, Peggy Noonan, in her column, “Patriots, Then and Now” conveyed the following thoughts.
We are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically now.
We are not communicating love of country.
The politically correct nitwit teaching the seventh-grade history class who decides the impressionable young minds before him need to be informed, as their first serious history lesson, that the Founders were hypocrites, the Bill of Rights nothing new and imperfect in any case, that the Indians were victims of genocide, that Lincoln was a clinically depressed homosexual who compensated for the storms within by creating storms without……
You can turn any history into mud. You can turn great men and women into mud too, if you want to.
And it’s not just the nitwits, wherever they are, in the schools, the academy, the media, though they’re all harmful enough. It’s also the people who mean to be honestly and legitimately critical, to provide a new look at the old text. They’re not noticing that the old text–the legend, the myth–isn’t being taught anymore. Only the commentary is. But if all the commentary is doubting and critical, how will our kids know what to love and revere? How will they know how to balance criticism if they’ve never heard the positive side of the argument?
Those who teach, and who think for a living about American history, need to be told: Keep the text, teach the text, and only then, if you must, deconstruct the text.
When you don’t love something you lose it. If we do not teach new Americans to love their country, and not for braying or nationalistic reasons but for reasons of honest and thoughtful appreciation, and gratitude, for a history that is something new in the long story of man, then we will begin to lose it.
We have the opportunity to raise a “We Generation” that understands the true history of the United States, the reasons why, although history will judge us imperfect, immigrants flock to this country and why we must defend our unique system of government which has protected our freedoms for over 200 years.
As Thomas Jefferson admonished so long ago, “If a nation expect to be ignorant and free.it expect what never was and never will be.”
History must be taught and judged in context. Only then can the citizens of our country commit to the fundamental values and principles of our political heritage, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, and the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the words of Thomas Paine, “We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.” Unless teachers allow students to develop the knowledge and skills required to come to their own positions, they are violating student’s rights to freedom of belief, conscience, and choice, incompatible with the proper role of public education in a free society. Next on Mr. Bleuher’s syllabus; Acts of Genocide since the Holocaust.
* (while having the foresight to video the speakers)
Center for Civic Education, “Papers & Speeches” Charles N. Quigley
Abner S. Ganet
Michael N. Kuryla, Jr.
Learning to Give “Core Democratic Values”
Memorable Quotes from Jaws (1975)
Patriots, Then and Now
Copyright Â© Nancy Salvato 2006
Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, (www.Basicsproject.org) a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy.