“Patriotism is the freedom of expression, the freedom of hope, the freedom of everything else you can think of. When 9/11 happened, I watched with disbelief and horror. It harkened back to Dec. 7, 1941.” — J.O. Young.
On Dec. 7, 1941, 19-year-old J.O. Young of Nampa, Idaho, was working as a carpenter on Wake Island in the North Pacific. He’d taken the job for the good pay, hoping he could save money to marry his sweetheart, Pearl.
Four hours after they bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese soldiers attacked Wake Island. Although he was a civilian contractor, Young joined the Marines in fighting. After 16 days, the Japanese landed and captured the Americans.
“Looking across the lagoon I could see the American flag. Shortly after, a white bed sheet was raised in token of surrender. Then the Japanese Rising Sun was raised. That image was indelibly impressed on all of our minds,” Young said. “When the American flag doesn’t fly, there is no freedom.”
Later, as he and his fellow American prisoners were marched past the barracks, Young saw the American flag — wadded up in a fish net at the bottom of a door.
“They used it as a door stop,” Young said, choking back tears.
For the next three years and nine months, he lived as a prisoner of war under the Rising Sun. (He doesn’t like to talk about that time: “Let’s just say we weren’t national guests. Things were bad.”)
On Aug. 14, 1945, the Japanese guards left the prison camp. Soon, American planes flew over, dropping candy bars and cigarettes.
A few weeks later, an emaciated Young boarded the S.S. Ozark to San Francisco.
“When we came in, I saw this pretty blonde wearing a red dress that was waving. I decided that was my girl, Pearl. I kissed her before I kissed my mother. She said later, ‘If you didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have married you!’” Young said.
They married 30 days later.
And 36 years later, Congress recognized Young’s contribution to World War II by awarding him the status of a Navy veteran.
“We positively influence people that we interact with. That’s what patriotism means for me.” —Liam Lunstrum
When Liam Lunstrum began his Peace Corps service in Guatemala in 2006, he didn’t consider himself especially patriotic.
But living in another country for two years as a representative of the United States changed that. Surrounded by people whose lives were so different from his own, he had to define what he liked about being an American.
“I wasn’t someone who walked around with the American flag. But especially after 9/11, it was really neat being part of American outreach that was constructive,” said Lunstrum, who worked as an agriculture and health education volunteer.
“That’s something that we stand for as a country, that we can help build people’s lives.”
For Lunstrum, the annual Peace Corps Fourth of July barbecues were especially meaningful. Gathering with other volunteers in a foreign land — away from family and friends — the celebration of American freedom helped Lunstrum remember the life he’d left behind.
And when he wanted a taste of home, Lunstrum could always visit the Burger King in Guatemala City.
That’s where he realized he was performing his patriotic duty.
“I was in there for a burger, and I met this man who was a colonel in the Army. When I told him I was in the Peace Corps, he told me, ‘Thanks for your service.’ He said: ‘You’re doing your job so we don’t have to do ours.’ That really meant a lot. When I went back, I told the other volunteers. That made us proud,” he said.
In part because of his service in the Peace Corps, Lunstrum, a 2001 Skyview High School graduate, decided to devote his life to helping others stay healthy. He now studies medicine at Western University in Pomona, Calif.