Oh say, can you see?

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Stephen Musal
  • 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
My neighbor across the street and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. He's a retired Army senior NCO; I'm a young active-duty Airman. He spends two hours each day perfecting his garden; my wife and I have someone cut the lawn every two weeks. He has lights on outside all night; I prefer to, well, sleep.

But yesterday, he and I agreed on something. I came home around 4:55 p.m. or so, and happened to have the garage door open to take a few things outside. My neighbor across the street was outside as usual, putting the finishing touches on his gardenias. On his flagpole, the Stars and Stripes flapped merrily in the breeze. Another neighbor down the street was mowing his lawn. The next-door neighbor's young children were running around playing.

Unexpected in this little corner of suburbia, the sounds of retreat from the base started playing. Out of reflex or pride, I fell into parade rest, snapping to attention as the drum roll preceding our national anthem began. In the moments before the music began, I noticed something amazing.

Down the street, the lawnmower was forgotten as the neighbor stood with his hand over his heart, facing my neighbor across the street's flag. Next door, the usually-impossible-to-silence children stood in wonder, playtime forgotten, if only for a moment. As I raised my right hand and saluted, across the street my neighbor, too, snapped to attention and crisply paid honors to the Star-Spangled Banner.

In mere minutes, the moment had passed. The lawnmower started up again, the kids next door resumed screaming at each other, my neighbor across the street returned to his flowers and to keeping me up at night with his unfortunate choices in porch lighting. As I closed the garage door and went inside to change out of my ABUs, a thought crossed my mind.

This is America: little kids playing in the street, young people coming home from work, middle-aged people mowing their lawns, old people pruning flowers and every kind of person in between. When we raised our right hand to enlist or to accept a commission, we didn't sign up to defend a piece of land. We signed up to defend the people who make up America, whether or not we get along with each other.

We are a nation of many different peoples, of different faiths, different philosophies, different skills and different opinions. The Constitution which we as servicemembers swear to defend reminds us of our differences, but it also shows our true strength, just as the moment yesterday reminded me: in our unity as Americans, despite our differences, we are mighty.