They Paid Forward

June 21, 2011

“Pay it Forward.” Many of you are familiar with the movie with the same title. The plot is admirable, resulting in a pyramid of people doing good deeds to make the country and world a better place. The movie is heartwarming, involving one particular elementary school child who makes it a life project to do good, urged on by his teacher. You know that this was reality in years past, but for some reason it has been set aside by generations of people who have become more self-serving than service-giving.

In the days of my grandparents—and perhaps your great grandparents—people were driven to satisfy their needs for liberty and the freedom to pursue their lives independently in a new country. In my case, it was my grandparents and family who left Russia. They somehow made it to Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 1898. Then they boarded the ship the SS Rotterdam for a long voyage to America, landing on Ellis Island in 1889.

After an arduous stay on the island they left to settle in Massachusetts, where they had friends who had arrived earlier. They began their lives with little of anything—except for a major dose of desire to start over in a free land and the motivation to do well for everyone.

It wasn’t easy. World War I started soon after they arrived. What they had faced in Europe had followed the immigrants to America. My father told me that all the people joined in to rid the world of the evil “Huns.”

At age 17 he joined the Army, and soon after he was discharged due to an injury to his hip that would last throughout his long life. After the war was over, he went to college to become a dentist. He met my mother and they got married. As he was getting ready to start his practice, the Great Depression took hold of America and he had to find other work that would keep his family together. His was not the only story of building a life in America under discouraging circumstances.

The hundreds of thousands who relocated to America needed work. They seemed to get by doing odd jobs or finding work in the developing industries. They all seemed to pull together to make it work. Government entitlements did not begin until the election of the new president in 1932.  At that time, President Roosevelt put into motion the Social Security laws and the PWA administration to put people back to work. The population was growing very quickly and the public infrastructure needed to be built or rebuilt.

Americans were working together. They were happy that they found work and their families could once again live without fear. Welfare payments were not very much and individuals began to initiate plans for their own businesses.

There are thousands of examples of economic development in the late 1930s. However, the winds of war were once again blowing in Europe. A German army corporal had decided he had better plan to rebuild the Fatherland. By great oratory, promises, and false hope he garnered the admiration of enough of the masses to begin to build a war machine to attack all the countries in Europe. And so commenced the second war to end all wars…in the same century.

And so began WWII. Another generation of Americans had to fight for America’s freedom on foreign soil. The Japanese government was determined to assist their German friends and attacked American soil on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And we were knee deep in a war where, at the end, we would find that over 600,000 American military personnel died in combat on several continents.

During that time Americans started from scratch and joined together to build the world’s most magnificent war machine. Factories of all kinds were remodeled to make tanks instead of toys and planes instead of products. Men and women alike joined the workforce to give the military what they needed to bring peace to America. Songs were written—such as Rosie the Riveter, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, and Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor. Americans demonstrated once again that we wanted peace and were willing to fight for it for our children and theirs after them.

This war wasn’t meant to be. As long as greed, avarice, and envy between peoples continued, the America our forefathers envisioned for us would never be. As the world’s people became more self-serving rather than serving others, people would be led by dictatorial dogma to hate others and view others by class and not in humane ways. Wars have continued since and will continue as long as Americans keep on looking away from the needs of others. To be served, we must serve. Or else America will become only a tear in the eye of those who came before.

As Americans we must join together and keep our country strong. We are still the people that early leaders called the “We.” We must not allow our land to drop into the abyss of ignorance. See before you what is happening and pull back on the reins of entitlement and intervention. Stand up for what our ancestors believed to be true. We live in a great land of opportunity and freedom. Where has it gone? Find it now, each one of us.

My father and his father paid forward with their lives so that future generations could remain free. Liberty has a price which has to be paid in advance for it to continue over the generations. My parents and theirs and—I am sure yours as well—came before us and set the stage for America to be the finest land in the world. Now it is your turn at bat. One more strike may put us all on the bench of freedom. The torch has been passed. Carry it high and well.

The greatest song during times of distress that gave us strength during WWII was called God Bless America, sung by Ms. Kate Smith. I can hear her voice today. It uplifted our spirits whenever we heard it on the radio. Listen and then sing it or hum it or whistle it or kazoo it. It will remind you of your great gift. America!

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