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Vietnam Memorial, Christmas Eve: Love Letters to America

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One of my personal traditions in Washington
is to visit the Vietnam Memorial near midnight
on Christmas Eve.

If I am in a serious relationship with a woman
often she will come with me, as we hold hands
on a dark night and pay tribute to heroes. If I
am with a family for Christmas dinner, they
will sometimes come too, and everyone who
has done this with me, experienced a moving
and memorable experience.

I would encourage all who read these words,
to visit the Memorial during the Holidays if
you can get to town, even for a day.

From Thanksgiving through Christmas there
are written tributes and holiday cards resting below the names on the
Wall. There are large boxes full of letters and notes from those who
lost the ones they love, and those who did not
know any of those heroes who just want to
send their love and prayers.

It is an extraordinary experience, reading those
letters, something I hope every one of you will
someday share. It is an extraordinary feeling,
the letters, the cards, the tributes, the prayers
are written as though the names on the Wall
remain alive, or the greetings and tributes will be read somewhere in
heaven.

I believe they will be.

Washington near midnight on December 24 is
cold, dark and often windy. But from one end
of the Wall to the other, the lights flicker a little
brighter, and for a few minutes, the wind brings
a warmer breeze.

Every Christmas Eve at the Memorial, there
are dozens of us who come to this same place,
for this same reason, and often we will shake
hands, hug and talk in a quiet way about our
country.

The cards, letters, prayers, greetings, tributes
that grace the Wall during those Holiday days
are intensively personal, but they are also love
letters to America.

I began seriously writing on the internet in
June with a piece in the Washington Note
titled "For Whom The Bell Tolls". Since then,
I have received countless private responses
from people from every walk of life, with every
political viewpoint.

The common denominator of so many of them,
is that they were love letters to America.

The notes from active duty troops in Iraq saying
how good it is, to know there are people back
home fighting to get them what they need,
whether we support the policy or not.

The letter from the liberal Mom in Texas who
was offended by the Disney movie on 9-11,
and marched through her house with her little
daughter throwing away every Disney toy in
protest.

The military mom who wrote me shortly before
the election, who had sent my God Bless The
Troops Who Serve post to her son in Iraq.

The countless men and women who wrote me
about how America must never surrender our
Bill of Rights, and why America must never
commit torture by any name.

The protests, prayers and pleas that came in
to fight for honest elections without fraud or
intimidation.

All of these expressions, in so very different
ways, share a very common sentiment: they
are all love letters to America. They are all
expressions of love of country, how fortunate
we are, to live in this land. From proud support
of our troops to the strongest dissents from our
government policies, they all flow from a true
wellspring of American patriotism.

From left, right and center: they all write their
love letters to America. Where our leaders are
right, they speak with pride. Where our leaders
are wrong, they speak with patriotism and
passion, to set things right and keep America the great best hope on
earth, forever.

Many of us, have our own formative experience
in life. Mine was being in Warsaw, Poland, in
1981 during the Cold War. Suffice it to say,
I was meeting with true freedom fighters, at the
very moment that the Soviet communist leaders
were in Warsaw for the inauguration of the
communist dictator General Jaruzelski and
the city was crawling with Soviet Generals
and KGB planning in their meetings to put
Lech Walesa and others in jail.

I will never in my life, forget the exact minute,
flying home, when the pilot said: "We have now
entered West German airspace." My instant
thought was for myself: back home in the free
world, safe again. Almost immediately I then
thought of the Poles I had left behind, risking
their lives, surrounded by dictatorship and
danger.

Only months later, the communists declared
martial law.

But in a decade, the last stone was torn down
from Berlin Wall.

Before, after, then, now, earlier, later and
forever there are people all around the world
writing their own love letters, in their own ways,
to America. There are those who may despise
the American policy of the day, but the idea of
America, the history of America, the freedom
of America, is a living beacon to so many even
in their darkest days of oppression.

Love letters to America come in many words
and many languages. When our country does
go wrong, many of those who oppose our
policies so strongly, privately pray that we set
things right.

At the Vietnam Memorial this Veterans Day
there were moving speeches by great leaders
such as General Barry McCaffrey, decorated
hero and military voice, and Captain Frederick
Hauck, great retired Naval Officer and former
astronaut.

The most moving speech, however, was by
the youngest person on the stage, CM2
Elizabeth Lopez, who had served in Iraq
and returned home to use her gifts to help
other returning troops. Surrounded by
Generals, Admirals and the Secretary
of the Air Force she received the standing
ovation of the day when she told how she
felt, when her tour of duty ended, and she
first heard the words: "Welcome Home."

The election is over, America has entered a
new period in our history, and hopefully we
can regain the spirit where we all write love
letters to America, and we all read with respect,
the love letters to America written by others.

For those who want to make a difference and
help our troops, our veterans and their families
please go to purpleheart.org or one of the
many great groups doing such good work.

For those anywhere near Washington during this coming Holiday Season,
pay a visit to the Wall and read some of those extraordinary and
moving letters of patriotism and love, and
maybe even write one yourself, and leave
it in the box resting near the Wall. Something tells me, it will make it
to the right place.

If you happen to be there during the hour when
December 24 becomes December 25, look for
me, we will shake hands and share the moment
together.