Paul T. Keil, 4 July 2018
America’s Independence Day: Year B
Peace be with you and welcome to our celebration of the Mass for Wednesday of the Thirteenth week in Ordinary Time and also the day we, as Americans, celebrate our national freedom won from Great Britain some 242 years ago. I think it is important for us to remember however, as we sit here comfortably in Church this morning on July 4th, 2018, recalling a single event in 1776, our American Revolution actually lasted over six long years and didn’t end until October of 1781. And the powerful British Empire didn’t come to the table and sign a treaty recognizing the sovereignty of those 13 original colonies as the United States of America until September 3, 1783. We should never forget the great sacrifice, bloodshed, and sufferings of those first American patriots during that six-year fight for freedom and always thank God for their great courage and perseverance.
Many of you here know a little about my own personal history; 30 years in the Army, moved the family 21 times, flew helicopters and airplanes. You may not know however, one of the things we’ve always been most thankful for is this, Virginia and I have lived in or seen some pretty miserable places around the world that make us sooo very grateful to be Americans. I sometimes say every single American citizen should go live somewhere for one year – where you cannot take the simplest things for granted like; running water, never mind the hot or cold options, light at the flip of a switch, or just some basic sanitation needs. Just look at some of those nighttime satellite images of the earth, then compare them to a map, and realize some of the darkest spots actually have millions of people living there. Friends, those people aren’t in darkness to save energy; they’re in darkness because they don’t have an option to turn on the lights. Have you ever noticed some of the people most grateful to be Americans today, came from somewhere else? You know, the last thing I want to do is get into politics this morning but we wouldn’t have this whole debate about immigration if America were a horrible place to live.
Well, I’d like to take a few minutes this morning to talk about one of those grateful American immigrants who I formally met a few years ago but found out our paths had originally crossed decades earlier. I was visiting my two brothers in California for Thanksgiving. My younger brother, Greg was on the faculty at Cal State University, Fullerton and as he was showing me around the campus he wanted to introduce me to a Vietnamese associate Nguyen Vu. After introductions, Greg and Vu started talking college business and I really wasn’t paying much attention but I looked around Vu’s office with interest. Family pictures, academic certificates, an American Flag prominently displayed, and one item that seemed just a little odd, a framed photo of a Vietnam Era US Army Huey Helicopter.
When their business talk ended I asked Vu about his American citizenship story. It was as though I had asked him about the happiest day of his life. He became animated and joyful but then told a story that sounded contradictory to his happiness until the very end, when he became a citizen. He told about years as a refugee filled with terror, unbelievable hardship, death of his father, and uncertainty until he reached American shores. Now both he and his Vietnamese wife are academics, his kids are straight A students, and his oldest, a daughter, is in pre-med at UCLA on full scholarship. Nguyen Vu and his family were rapidly becoming one of those American success stories and he just loved talking about it.
So then I asked, “What’s with the picture of the old Army helicopter?” He told me his mother had cut it out of a magazine and framed it to remind them of the night their village was rescued from the North Vietnamese Army. He was 13 years old and he remembered an American soldier and a South Vietnamese Officer from a nearby camp came to their village at sunset and told them they were going to be evacuated because the North Vietnamese Army was coming and killing everyone. He said it was very exciting for him but his mother and father were very scared. He remembered the helicopter coming in the dark with no lights and a man pulling everyone up because it couldn’t quite land. I asked him if he knew the date. He took the picture down where his mother had written on the back in script I couldn’t read but he translated as 12 August 1969.
I couldn’t be sure until I got back to Huntsville to check my own records but when I got home I dug out the old files. Sure enough there was an award of an Air Medal with “V” for a long night I flew for a Special Forces Unit evacuating a Vietnamese village near An Loc dated, 12 August 1969. I was 21 years old. What a small wonderful world we live inI have some homework for you when you go home today – to say four short prayers and read a couple of short Bible verses. It should take less than five minutes. First go home, walk into the bathroom, turn on the light, and say, “Thank you God.” Then flush the toilet and say, “Thank you God.” Then turn on hot water; wash your hands, and say, “Thank you God.” Finally pick up your Bible, turn to Genesis, that’s in the very front by the way, read only 3:4-5, and meditate on the serpent’s words of temptation for a few seconds, “You will be like gods.” You see my friends, as Americans our many freedoms allow us to make “god like” decisions just like Adam and Eve in that Genesis story. After meditating for a few seconds humbly pray, “God You are the creator, I am the creature. You are God and I am not. Thank you Lord for allowing me to live in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Amen.”