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What’s Love Got To Do With It – The ‘God Bless America’ Edition

I wrote this column for The Newspaper Tree back in 2009 when my eldest son, Ryan, was in his second deployment to Iraq. It’s my memories of growing up with the amazing Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America’ on every variety show on tv at the time. Ryan is now in college after completing eight years in the military, but there are still soldiers who are in harms way every day around the world. May God bless them and keep them on this Independence Day, and every day that they fight for our freedom.


Remember when the Fourth of July meant baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet? Growing up in the seventies, the Fourth meant all the variety shows on tv would be trotting out Kate Smith to sing the song that made her a legend and got America through a lot of dark days in World War II – ‘God Bless America.’

Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America’ sent chills down my spine as a ten year old in 1976, and when I revisited her amazing love song to our country on YouTube before I wrote this piece, it made me cry so much that I had to walk away for a while before I could finish.

Irving Berlin wrote ‘God Bless America’ while he was in the Army in World War I. He tried to get it published then, but no one would have it. Twenty years later, in 1938, Kate Smith recorded the song for the 20th anniversary of the end of that war.

When World War II broke out, Kate Smith sang it every week on her radio show, and my grandparents told me that hearing her sing that song gave the nation hope when the outcome of the war was in question. When President Franklin Roosevelt introduced Kate Smith to the King and Queen of England, he did it by saying, “Your Majesties, this is Kate Smith. This is America.”

So What’s Love Got To Do With Kate Smith and God Bless America?

Most of you know my son is in the Army. He has served our country in Iraq three times.  I got stopped at the Streetfest this weekend no fewer than 10 times by listeners who asked about him, and thanked God that he was home safe.  I had to hold back tears every time someone asked about Ryan.  KISS listeners helped me get through his deployments, and I am eternally grateful to all of you.

Ryan told me from the time he was a little boy that he wanted to be a soldier, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father who was a Marine. I used to tell him stories of my great uncles who served in World War II, Lebanese immigrants who adopted this great country and served willingly when their country needed young men to defend it. My father was in the military, his brothers were as well. Military service is something that helps a lot of young men and women grow up and find their way in the world. Serving in the military has done tremendous things for my son. Do I want him to be in a war zone? Of course not. There isn’t a parent on the face of this earth that wishes their child to be in danger of being killed seven thousand miles away. At risk of sounding like a politician spouting out politically correct rhetoric – I’m for the soldiers, not the war.

My son, like every other soldier serving during this time of war, has a lot to live for. He has a beautiful family. His daughters, my granddaughters(!), Aurora, Zoe, Gwen, and his stepdaughter, Erin, are the lights of his life. He has grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends, who all prayed every day for his safe return. He has love for his country and told me he would rather fight for and defend it in a distant land than at a bus stop in Downtown El Paso. He has hopes and dreams of finishing college and going on to law school and following in my father’s footsteps by practicing law. And he has a mom who is blessed enough to be able to stir listeners to action when they found out that our soldiers didn’t have something as basic as toilet paper when Ryan and the 4/1 were first deployed to Iraq. Ryan laughed when I sent him case after case of tp, all thanks to KISS listeners.

And now, I can do this. I can point you to a YouTube video that stirred my ten year old heart and made my grandparents cry with pride for the country they loved, the country they instilled pride and love for in me, and the country that so many soldiers in Iraq, Afganistan, and around the world love and put their lives on the line for each day. Watch it this Fourth of July and try not to cry.

I’ll end this column the way I ended every letter to my son, Ryan.

I love you and miss you so much, my darling son. Pray, as I pray for you every moment. Be safe.


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