"Life without liberty is like a body without spirit." — Kahil Gibran
Every year around the middle of June, I start thinking about the 4th of July. This year, as I pondered how fortunate we are to live in America, two thoughts crossed my mind.
First, I recalled the late Erma Bombeck's reflection that, unlike many other countries, we do not celebrate our independence by parading guns, tanks and soldiers by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, listen to band concerts, and eat hot dogs and potato salad. "You may think you have overeaten," she wrote, "but it is patriotism."
We celebrate our independence on July 4th because it was on that day in 1776 that the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. The inspirational wording of that cherished document, which was incentive enough for our colonies to wage a successful war against the occupying British troops, still causes our hearts to skip a beat, and brings out our finest instincts of patriotic pride.
Who among us does not experience a feeling of exaltation upon hearing or reading Jefferson's words that "all men are ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?"
Secondly, I've noticed that first- generation immigrants are among our most patriotic citizens. Whether they've come from Latin America, Europe or Asia, many of them know first-hand what it's like to live in a land void of the freedoms outlined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
Nobody exemplifies this trait more than my friend Marlene Rafferty, who came here from Germany during the middle 1950s. An attractive lady with a sparkling personality and charming German accent, her patriotism is infectious as she tells her story.
Born in Berlin in 1931, Marlene was not yet 2 years old when Hitler became German chancellor in 1933. Two years after starting school as a first-grader, World War II began when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. During the war years, Marlene lived in the mountains to get away from the bombing — in Sachen, in east Germany, and in Czechoslovakia — until she returned to Berlin in 1945 to rejoin her parents. During those years, she says, she witnessed unspeakable horrors that the Third Reich inflicted on its own citizens, including 10-year-old boys who refused to join the Hitler Youth organization.
Leaving her family behind, Marlene immigrated to the U.S. in 1955, where she found employment as a nurse in Boston. Her life changed dramatically, however, when she and a girlfriend decided to take a Greyhound Bus tour of the country in 1958. A year later, she married Everett Rafferty, the bus driver who had driven her from Yosemite to San Francisco during her tour. They settled in Fresno, her new husband's hometown, raised two children, and lived happily until his passing 41 years later.
In 2004, Marlene felt it was time to give back to her adopted country, where she had experienced so much happiness and good fortune.
Since her husband served in the Navy in World War II, she decided to volunteer at the veterans hospital. She joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary 884, where from 2004-08, she served as historian, trustee, junior and senior vice president and president.
Marlene then moved up to the district level, which consists of nine auxiliaries. From 2010 to 2014, she held the position of president, while simultaneously acting as a district trustee and historian and, until the year 2015 will be patriotic instructor for Auxiliary 3225.
Now 83, Marlene is in the process of resigning from all of her veteran leadership positions as her terms end so that she can spend more time with her family.
I look on her with admiration and respect, knowing that she has served with her heart while honoring and nourishing our veterans.
Benjamin Franklin said, "Where liberty dwells, there is my country."
Marlene Rafferty couldn't agree more.