As I sit here this morning, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an American. It is a topic that has often been discussed in my family. You see, we personify what America is — a melting pot. My great-grandmother (maybe it was great-great?), a full-blooded Cherokee, was born on the Trail of Tears. She later married and Irishman and raised her family in Oklahoma. On my mother’s side of the family, some of our ancestors came over from England long before the Revolutionary War. Others immigrated from Ireland and Scotland before the Civil War. Still others came over after that, from parts of Europe like Germany and the Netherlands. In every instance, other than the Cherokee, they came to this land by choice because they wanted the freedom this country offered. Freedom of religion, speech, assembly, etc. They wanted the freedom to make a life for themselves and their families.

These same people fought for this country. I’ve traced them to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812. Hanging on the wall across from me are my great-great grandfather’s discharge from the Union Army as well as the history of the battles he served in. Those papers belonged to one Nathaniel Foster Wilkinson from New Jersey. He was my mother’s paternal great-grandfather. On her paternal side, Absolam Schall also served in the Grand Army of the Republic and, ironically in some ways, fought in many of the same battles as Nathaniel, even though he was with one of the Pennsylvania regiments. He was also wounded in the same battle — Second Bull Run — in the same leg (right).

Someone from our family has served in each major conflict this country has been involved with. They did it because they believed in what this country stands for. Their families stood behind them for the same reason. My son now serves in the military. When I asked him why he signed his contract — and he did so while still in college and on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — his answer was simple. He believes in the ideals of this country and thinks them important enough to stand ready to defend them.

We’ve come a long way since the colonists dumped the tea into Boston Harbor but there is still a long way to go. We can do it, as long as we never forget the reason this country was founded and the building blocks of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution as a whole. God bless this country and her people.