Hometown patriotism and Patriot Day

A color guard carrying the American flag starts the Independence Day parade July 4, 2007, on the main street of Wakefield, Mich.  (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

A color guard carrying the American flag starts the Independence Day parade July 4, 2007, on the main street of Wakefield, Mich. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

A color guard carrying the American flag starts the Independence Day parade July 4, 2007, on the main street of Bessemer, Mich.  (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

A color guard carrying the American flag starts the Independence Day parade July 4, 2007, on the main street of Bessemer, Mich. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

FORT DIX, N.J. -- The rain clouds and the darkness were slowly closing in on the color guard as they were leading the July 4th parade in Bessemer, Mich. 

From where I stood with my two daughters, you could see people standing up and taking off hats as the color guard approached. 

It took a bit longer before the color guard with veterans from all the services wound its way past us. When they arrived, it was a magical moment as they came with all the colors showing brightly amid the darkening skies. 

Everyone stood up as they slowly marched by. My daughters took a brief glance back at me as I snapped to attention even though I wore civilian dress. 

My heart was pounding loudly in my chest because I was so proud - proud because everyone, young and old, stood up and did their best to show respect to the American flag as it passed. I was proud to see how my daughters have learned in their young years how the flag means so much to so many people. It was a moment of pride for me and my hometown area. 

It was also the second time I had witnessed it that day. This was an evening parade and earlier in the day I watched a nearly identical action take place in my neighboring hometown of Wakefield, Mich. People stood and also cheered as the color guard of veterans marched on to lead the parade. 

These events of hometown patriotism have been a common occurrence for as long as I can remember, and it's not the only time I see the honor, dignity and respect the American flag gets in my hometown and in the towns nearby. To everyone who lives there, being patriotic is a duty of all Americans - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

It's a lesson we all can adhere to, particularly as we remember the fateful events of Sept. 11, 2001, on Patriot Day 2007. I can recall when that event took place. I was stationed in North Dakota, and some of the first people I talked to were from my hometown area. They were, like many Americans, devastated at how many lives were lost in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and were bound and determined to support whatever had to be done. 

I can recall hearing comparisons to Pearl Harbor that started World War II for America. I can recall hearing sympathetic voices to the victims of those terrible terrorist attacks. That day, the patriotism in my hometown didn't waver, it just grew stronger. 

Many of us in the military come from similar hometowns from across the country, showing our patriotism in a variety of ways. It's those silent majority of people who love the American way of life and are proud of what the flag and the people behind it stand for that makes hometown patriotism so great. 

On every anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, I've tried to do something in remembrance of the victims of that day no matter where I might have been. It may have been participating in an official memorial ceremony or as simple as stopping and having a moment of silence near a flag at half-mast. It's the respect I learned from the hometown patriots I grew up with. 

Since Sept. 11, our lives have not been easier - it's no doubt that it's been harder as we fight the Global War on Terrorism. Hometowns have lost heroes in that fight - mine included, but the patriotism carries on as strong as ever. 

I learned long ago to respect the warfighter amongst us. As a child, my grandfather Arne Sturkol often told me of a man named John "Chummy" Ozzello. He befriended him while frequenting the town bowling alley for a league. Mr. Ozzello was the owner at the time.
Grandpa would retell stories he'd heard from Chummy. He'd talk of Mr. Ozzello's exploits in the U.S. Army and was proud of the hero Chummy was. 

Over the years, even after Chummy left the bowling business and rejoined the Army for a stint, I got to learn more about Mr. Ozzello and how he was one of many heroes from my hometown. He'd been mayor of the town, served on the city council and does to this day. 
He's been an inspiration to others and is a steadfast hometown patriot if I ever saw one.
And so the hometown patriot march goes. This Patriot Day, I know Chummy, and others, will remember Sept. 11 and let others know how important being a patriot is. 

You see that day, the 4th of July, I saw Chummy in the color guard. Here was my grandpa's old friend marching as though he was fresh out of basic training at Fort Dix in the 1950s. It was as though grandpa was marching with him. 

Chummy makes me proud. My hometown makes me proud. And that's why I serve - to be a patriot and to remember those patriots who came before us and who are amongst us. Please, remember your hometown patriots this Patriot Day.