October 2001 Hedge a Gram

Once a month I take the time to talk to children, teachers and children's book lovers about my life as an author and illustrator. This October, I'd like to tell you how I feel as an American

My daughter, Lia, is a Marine. Four years ago she served at her first duty station as a 2nd Lieutenant in Okinawa, Japan. It took 22 hours to fly from my home near Boston to her base in Okinawa. After I arrived in Japan, we drove north through the island until we finally reached the Marine base where she worked in the motor transportation unit. I already knew Marines worked long long hours and they had to work hard to stay in shape. Sometimes when I called I found she was "in readiness" which meant her unit stayed on base in case there was a conflict in the Pacific. If that happened they would be ready to fly somewhere in a few hours. The island of Okinawa seemed so far away. Our American flag flew over beaches with beautiful and unusual shells. You could dive into the ocean and see colorful tropical fish or even encounter a sea snake. Flying foxes, a kind of fruit bat would land in a tree at night making a rattling sound with their wings. It is so hot that a green flag was put up if it was safe to exercise. But a black flag meant "Don't run around or exercise, you could get heat stroke!" Most days the black flag was up flying by 900AM.

The first morning I woke up with jet lag at 500 and I decided to go for a run while Lia caught up on her sleep. After ten minutes I heard a bugle playing, some distance away and a microphone switch on. That was when I noticed that every person stopped in their tracks. Cooks outside the mess hall, Marines in jeeps, Marines marching, they all stopped and turned. They saluted as our flag was raised and the Star Spangled Banner played over the microphone in the funny way it sounds when broadcast over a PA system. Every Marine's face was serious and proud. I put my hand over my heart like I used to do in school, but I felt very different that morning, seeing the Marines, so far from their loved ones who were willing to give their lives for their country if need be.

The Marines I met were from every part of the United States. They were from many different backgrounds, they descended from different nationalities, and from different religions. There are ready to protect us and our democracy and freedom.

I thought it strange that I would have to go across the world to a tropical island to first feel like a patriot. Today, the tragic events have made everyone in America including the people in the small town that I live in feel like patriots. Everyone in our town has the American flag on their house or their car. We join together to live out the ideals of democracy and freedom, and in this tragic time we all have become patriots.

Your friend,

Jan Brett