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Living Our Heritage
John Greenley
Posted November 26, 1997

Last year at this time, I drove to Fort Pierce, Florida to join 90+ members of my family in celebrating my grandmother's 100th birthday. This week, as we again approach Thanksgiving, I think back over my heritage and remember the stories.

I remember Grandmother's story. A few years after her marriage, young Grace's husband was committed to a VA Hospital. Then both her parents died, leaving her to finish raising 3 younger siblings and her own 2 very young daughters through the Depression. She did so. Both her daughters graduated from college. Life placed a heavy burden on her. She didn't give it to the government or her neighbors. She accepted it and carried it magnificently. Today she still lives by herself in her own home.

Her older brother, Chief Mate on a freighter in 1919, asked for volunteers to go into the flooding hold and remove the heavy timbers that were battering the ship's hull apart with each toss of the waves. When no one volunteered, he descended down into the darkness alone. In cold water that swirled with such violence it stripped from his body all clothing below his waist, he hitched lines around each timber so it could be removed and secured. He too did what he had to do. Uncle Charlie died in his 80's, working as a coastal pilot until the year before his death.

I've researched my family, some lines back to the 1580's. I've not found any kings or princes. I've not found any thieves or knaves. I've found carpenters, coopers, farmers and smiths. People who fed their families honestly, and raised them to be productive members of society in their time. People respected in their communities. Very few were professional warriors, but each generation served when their country needed them in the wars of their lifetimes. These were the people that built this country. Indeed, these are the people that build every civilized society. These are the kinds of people we are, and that we want our children to become.

My ancestors fought at Louisburg in 1758, where Americans first learned that their militia could match and defeat the best professional troops in the world. They were at Concord in 1776, and fought through the Revolution to make this nation be. The were active from the very beginnings of the abolitionist movement, trying to make this a land of liberty and opportunity for all.

This is my personal heritage. Yours is probably not much different. We all share in the greater heritage of America as well. This is a time to think back over that heritage and remember those stories.

Remember the story of the silversmith and the doctor that rode through the night, warning the people of the invading redcoats. The story of the plantation owner that accepted command of a rag-tag army and led them to victory over the forces of the greatest country then on the earth, only to be called back from retirement to lead the first Constitutional government. The story of the captain who declared "I have not yet begun to fight," before taking the enemy ship before his own sunk. Stories of the Alamo, of men choosing to fight to the death that their country might live.

There are also stories less well known. The 3 teenage boys that carried the women and children of their party across the stream along the Wyoming portion of the Oregon Trail, wading back and forth in the icy waters until the job was done, only then collapsing and dying. The Samaritan that went into the Civil War battlefield, bringing canteens of water to the dying and wounded of both blue and gray. Soldiers on both sides watched over the sights of their rifles, first suspicious, then incredulous, then cheering. These are the men and women of our heritage.

Such men and women live today. Two years ago a boy scout in Arizona died on a hiking trip from exhaustion. He'd given all his water to other boys, and was carrying so much of the smaller boys' load that his body finally gave up. He'd never complained, just carried on. In Jacksonville, Florida 4 years ago, the pilot of a tanker loaded with gasoline felt tremendous chest pains as he entered the river's entrance. He ignored the pain and refused to risk letting the ship's captain try to con the twisting river. After an hour of navigating the ship, he turned the wheel over to a qualified relief pilot that had been rushed to the ship before collapsing. He died enroute to the hospital.

Each of us can be thankful for having such men and women in our past and in our midst. Each of us can strive to be such men and women ourselves. Each of us needs to do all that we can to keep this country the place that those that went before gave to us. We give thanks not just with words and prayers, but by actions. Each of us has the power to rise to meet the problems life will confront us with, and triumph. Each of us can take every opportunity to make a difference. Each of us can live so as to honour our heritage. Each of us can also teach the next generation from the stories, teach them to carry the heritage on.

Have a peaceful, happy, and thankful Thanksgiving.

John tries to keep a low profile, so he wouldn't give me much information about himself. He said the only organizations he belongs to are his family, his country and the LDS Church. He did say you could send comments to him though.
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