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Denise Wheeler Headshot

Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Country

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It's been 46 years since Kennedy delivered his historic inaugural speech where he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens, a challenge Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has apparently passed along to his five sons, whose ages range from 26-37 and whose patriotic sacrifices are now being served behind the wheels of an air-conditioned Winnebago, as they crisscross the frontlines of America, bravely doling out bumper stickers and handshakes to help secure their father's ambitions.

This bold fight in the War of Candidate Success was probably not be what Kennedy had in mind when he called upon the nation to "bear any burden and meet any hardship to assure the survival and success of liberty." But perhaps cruising around in a Winnebago is a large sacrifice for a band of Ivy Leaguers, all of whom opted to not enlist in the military, in spite of their father being a gung-ho supporter of the Iraq war and vociferously in favor of deploying more troops.

Still, Romney's recent victory lap after the Republican straw poll in Iowa could be greatly reduced by his offspring's noble efforts, when he proudly told the crowd, when asked if any of his sons were serving in the military, that they were supporting the nation by helping him get elected. Conservative blogger James Joyner, of Outside the Beltway, went so far as to call it "the dumbest answer ever by a presidential candidate."

The fact that Romney's own patriotic service was limited to ringing doorbells for two years as a missionary for the Mormon Church may end up wounding him as well as the election heats up and Americans begin to sift through the rhetoric more closely.

As Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, recently said in the wake of Romney's blunderous remark, "If this war is so important, why is it O.K. for you to support our loved ones fighting it but not send your own sons?"

For now, at least, the only battleground the Romney boys seem to be interested in is the one that leads to the White House, and though the shadow of Kennedy's inauguration still looms large for many Americans -- and should -- the shadow of the Sullivan brothers should loom even larger over Romney. Five sons from an Iowan family, who all enlisted together in 1942, served together, and died together less than a year later, when the USS Juneau sank during the Battle of Guadalcanal.

As a direct result of the boys' deaths, the U.S. War Department adopted the Sole Survivor Policy. The Navy also named two destroyers The Sullivans in honor of the brothers, whose motto became that of both ships: "We stick together."

A tragic tale, although a poignant reminder of the true meaning of "service" and "sacrifice." Whether America agrees, however, has yet to be decided. There are still a lot of roads to crisscross in this election, but, if Romney has his way, he'll be ringing the doorbell of the White House next year, as his sons ride up in a Winnebago named after themselves.